Saturday, January 24, 2009


Obama takes his place in history

By Christi Parsons and Peter Nicholas Tribune Washington Bureau
January 21, 2009

WASHINGTON - Barack Obama took his place as the 44th president of the United States under a bright January sky yesterday, painting the dark national moment in unsparing terms and exhorting Americans to respond by taking greater responsibility for themselves, the country and the world.Standing on the West Front of the Capitol as the first African-American sworn in as president, Obama celebrated that historic achievement, noting that his ascendance symbolized "who we are and how far we have traveled."But the heart of Obama's first address to the nation as its president was a stern rejection of the policies and values of his immediate predecessors and a somber call for the return of what he called traditional American virtues of hard work, fair play, tolerance and sacrifice for the common good.The nation faces "gathering clouds and raging storms" in the economy and in foreign policy, he said, and must respond with the resolve of its ancestors.

"At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents," Obama said."So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans."Evoking the names and values of the Founding Fathers is commonplace in presidential speeches, but in Obama's case the device seemed intended to make a larger point: The change he hopes to bring about will require even his supporters to accept things they don't want to accept, work with opponents they've long demonized and break long-ingrained lifestyles.Americans as a whole must adopt a new, more self-denying way of life with little room for "those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame" he said.In a passage that echoed Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural, Obama said, "Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished."But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."If the speech was exceptionally somber and included relatively few lines designed to draw roars of approval from the enormous crowd, the day nonetheless resounded with jubilation.More than a million people flocked to the National Mall to take part in the event, spilling outward from the Capitol steps toward the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial more than a mile away.Choirs sang. Some of the world's finest musicians performed, including classical violinist Yitzak Perlman and cellist Yo Yo Ma, along with Anthony McGill, a new Peabody Conservatory faculty member, and soul singer Aretha Franklin. High school bands paraded. And tears streamed down faces, weathered and smooth alike, here and around the globe, as the son of a white American and a black African immigrant ascended to his place in history.The only shadow on the day was cast during the luncheon for the new president hosted in the Capitol by House and Senate leaders: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy suffered a seizure and was taken to a hospital.The Massachusetts Democrat suffers from brain cancer, but an aide said he was awake, talking with family members and feeling well.Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the oldest member of the Senate, was sitting near Kennedy and became visibly upset. He was taken from the lunch but is fine, according to an aide.Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, were whisked away by helicopter immediately after the inaugural ceremony and headed for their home state of Texas after a private farewell to staff at Andrews Air Force Base.And almost at once, the wheels of the new administration began to turn.In the afternoon, new White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel put a hold on all regulations the Bush administration had been drafting, pending a review by the new team. Obama is expected to begin issuing his own administrative measures later this week.

Obama made the appointment of his Cabinet his first official act, and the Senate approved several members before the day was over, though Senate Republicans delayed others.Hillary Clinton, Obama's nominee for secretary of state, had been expected to win approval yesterday, but Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, held up the vote to permit further questioning about her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and his charitable foundation's foreign donors.Others who face a more protracted process include the nominees for labor secretary, Hilda L. Solis; treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner; attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr.; and transportation secretary, Ray LaHood.The delays are expected to be temporary.

Obama also still needs to nominate a commerce secretary to replace Gov. Bill Richardson, who withdrew from consideration in the midst of a scandal in his home state of New Mexico.The finality of the transfer of power was signaled in small ways as well as large. A picture of Bush vanished from the White House Web site shortly after noon, and Obama's portrait appeared in its place.That he was taking office in challenging times, both domestic and foreign, Obama was quick to acknowledge, including an economic crisis as ominous as any since Roosevelt moved into the White House amid the Great Depression."Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age."The way out of the domestic morass, Obama said, will require a more active role for government.Indirectly rejecting Bill Clinton's assertion in 1996 that the era of big government was over, Obama said, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified."On foreign policy, Obama vowed to outlast and ultimately defeat terrorists. But he went out of his way to extend his hand to the Muslim world."To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," he said.He also declared that the United States would once more play the role of world leader. "We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.""Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met."Inauguration Day dawned with hundreds of thousands of people assembling in early morning to watch the day's events unfold - and to cheer, sing and tell stories.In the crowd, there was sustained booing of Bush at some points in the program.At the congressional lunch that followed the Bushes' departure by helicopter, Obama worked the room like a bridegroom at a wedding. When Kennedy was taken ill, Obama reminded the crowd in a halting voice that Kennedy had been in the Senate to support passage of the Voting Rights Act."So I would be lying to you if I did not say that right now a part of me is with him," Obama said.Michelle Obama joined her husband to review the troops on the steps of the Capitol. When Obama went to shake the hand of the military officer at his side, the president appeared startled when he got a salute instead as the new commander in chief.But Obama and the new first lady were all smiles and ease as they walked a length of their parade route, the silver collar of Michelle Obama's yellow-gold dress glinting in the afternoon sun. In the evening, the Obamas planned to attend all 10 official inaugural balls, speaking at each one.Yet it was the words of the afternoon that resonated beyond their delivery.People listened, mesmerized, as the speech rolled across the National Mall from a sound system that took two or three seconds to get to the farthest reaches of the crowd.The echo meant that the field was never quiet, even when Obama paused, as though the words of the day couldn't be contained in a single moment or place.





Sunday, January 11, 2009


Most frequently asked question is, 'Are you safe there?'

Dr. David Downham is a founder, along with his wife Catherine Downham, of Project Umbrella Burma. The non-profit organization provides direct aid to Burmese refugees, including the Karen people, at the border with Thailand. Here are some of his reflections on their work overseas.
When talking about the work we are trying to do here, on returning to Canada, one of the most frequently asked questions is, "Is it safe there?"

We have two young women here in Mae Sot, Thailand, from Orillia. Now, instead of Europe, young people will often tour the East. These two are spending a month teaching in the college in Doh Tah before going on to southern and northern India. They are confident, positive, very capable and a delight for our own young people in the college here. They are the quality of young people whose parents must be congratulated for so brilliantly fitting them with the tools of life.
But, it takes anyone time to understand and absorb another culture, another person's day to day. Cathy's concern was, inevitably, they would not have the time to absorb what is going on here. It led her to say the following:

"I would like to say to them: Here we are working on the Thai- Burmese border -- which is a lawless place, whether it looks like it or not, where the rules of neither country are observed; a 'fringe place' with many similar examples around the world, and where here, perhaps more than two to three million people live in poverty, great jeopardy and without any likelihood of justice; a people disregarded, who are an embarrassment and nuisance to both countries; their lives of no importance. And I want to say to them, our young temporary teachers, that while this is accepted as an attitude by any country, there is no real safety for anyone anywhere."

And she went on, "Am I being pompous? Do you agree with me? Will it help if I say that?"
And of course, I said, "Yes, it would help," and "Yes, I think they will understand."
In Orillia, a group of people have come together to make a film of life here. I do not know whether it has a title yet, but perhaps we should call it:A Community Intervenes.They have made footage of the college and the clinic and of the presentation of a stethoscope to Dr. Cynthia, a gift to honour her, from the doctors at Soldiers' Memorial Hospital. It was given with a short speech of appreciation of her amazing contribution to her fellow Karen people, and to the many people from all ethnic groups in Burma. It was given in English and with a special translation into broken Burmese, which hopefully lightened her day. Slowly we are all learning from people like Dr. Cynthia that taking care of another is taking care of yourself.

Here in Thailand, the professionals, academics and middle classes generally have been demonstrating against the corruption of the present government, bringing travel and tourism, vital to Thailand's economy, to a standstill -- with an extraordinarily disciplined and peaceful takeover of Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok. The much revered king of Thailand's birthday was looming on Dec. 4 and the protesters respectfully decided to pack up and go home. (This is unlikely to be anything but a momentary lull.) Though the king did not address his people and has certainly become quite frail recently, he took the time to ask Dr. Cynthia to visit, and presented her with another award. The king in Thailand carries a huge and well-earned moral authority. His recent silence on his birthday could be seen as a reprimand of the corruption in the government. His recognition of Cynthia and through her, of the importance of the Karen in Thai society, will be taken by many as an attitude to be adopted, as he nudges his people into a more enlightened attitude.

Trying to understand, and attempting to improve, so often takes us deeper into the maze. At least 50,000 people live a "half life" in Mae Lah refugee camp alone, unable to travel outside the narrow confines of the camp, unable to work, prevented from living in a permanent house; they are receiving some level of education, but with no direction for its use. Not surprisingly, alcohol and drug abuse become a problem.

The failure of the British to leave a reasonably workable political legacy in a multi-ethnic society has left three devastated generations in four groups: a) in Burma proper, within the territories of the ethnic minorities; b) amongst the expatriates from Burma, who have gone to live in Australia, Canada, the U. S. and the Baltic countries; c) the refugees growing up in the camps and d) those living the ultimate life of insecurity, as illegal immigrants.
The UN's emigration policy for the Karen ethnic group from Burma (the people to whom we are most connected) provides a weak-kneed answer for some individuals; at the same time, it destroys both the leadership and the culture.

The policy of the Junta, the Burmese military dictatorship, is clear: submit or suffer slow extermination. The Thai, at present, prefer to look the other way. We cannot expect much change in attitude from the Junta, but a gradual relaxation of the rules of citizenship for the Karen on this side of the border would be to the long-term benefit of Thailand. The king of Thailand, a strong believer in peaceful settlement, knows this very well.

So, coming back to the original question: "Is this a dangerous place?"

"Yes, of course, it is."

"Is this a good reason for not trying to do something about it?"

"No! That would be a far more dangerous thing to do."

Article ID# 1376225


The Karens in Burma are being mistreated by the military junta in Burma. The U.N. Org seems to be ignoring the plight of the Karen people as being treated harshly if not being actual victims of a policy of hatred or genocide by Burma's military regime. When will the international community become truly-solid in defending the human rights and civil liberties of the Karen people inside Burma? I hope that the U.N. Org can move its quick hands in helping the Karens achieve dignity and decency as a people inside Burma. Such should happen soon...............


About Burma marking independence day as a nation..

Burma junta marks independence day

January 4, 2009, 9:07 pm

Burma has marked the 61st anniversary of its independence with pomp and defiance, as the military junta called on citizens to support 2010 elections derided as a sham by democracy campaigners.

Soldiers raised the national flag at 4.28am (0848 AEDT) on Sunday - the exact time of the country's freedom from Britain - at a city hall in the remote capital of Naypyidaw, 400km north of Rangoon .

In comments read out by a subordinate in the bunker-like capital, Senior General Than Shwe trumpeted his seven-step "Road Map" to democracy, which the junta says will lead to multi-party elections next year.

He urged people to "cooperate in realising the state's seven-step Road Map with union spirit and patriotic spirit with the firm resolution to build up a peaceful, modern and developed democratic nation with flourishing discipline".

Than Shwe accused "neo-colonialists" - usually a reference to the United States - of interfering in Burma's affairs.

"The entire people are duty-bound to safeguard the motherland ... while keeping a watchful eye on attempts of neo-colonialists to harm the sovereignty of the country," Than Shwe said.

About 3,000 ministers, government employees and senior officials attended the ceremony and the formal military parade, although the ageing Than Shwe was not present.
The United States, European Union and United Nations have dismissed the lengthy "Road Map" as a sham due to the absence of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Burmese pro-democracy activists say the polls are aimed at cementing the military's grip on the nation, with Aung San Suu Kyi banned from running and 25 per cent of parliament seats reserved for members of the armed forces.

The NLD held a parallel independence day ceremony on Sunday attended by foreign diplomats and party members in Rangoon .

"Although there were many security members, they did not disturb us," said NLD spokesman Nyan Win, adding that the party used the opportunity to call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962, despite a 1990 election win by Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD. Instead of allowing her to take office, the military regime simply kept her under house arrest.

The people of Burma are still waiting for the day when democracy will fully- return to their homeland. I do hope that the incoming Obama admin in the United States will be doing policies that may somehow help push the Burmese people's peaceful and lawful struggle for democracy towards victory. I know that such victorious day would come.....