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Archive for November, 2012

Welcome to Hell

November 12th, 2012 No comments

New York-Obama’s impending visit to Burma in the context of America’s “pivot” to Asia in this so-called “Pacific century” (in contrast to the previous Atlantic century epitomized by the formation of NATO etc) raises a lot of grave human rights concerns, many of which in the case of Burma have festered for decades. Obama will attempt to make America’s presence felt in Southeast Asia during the upcoming East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh.

The Bangladesh government refuses to help these children and the Burmese government refuses to recognize them as citizens even as it comes out of the shadows of international economic isolation. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

In 2008, I traveled to the border town of Teknaf on the border of Burma’s Rakhine State (aka Arakan State) to document the festering Rohingya crisis at the junction of South and Southeast Asia. My visits to the fetid refugee camps south of Teknaf, Bangladesh culminated in From South-to-South: Burma’s Stateless Minority Under the Tip of Globalization’s Spear and my visit to the Rohingya migrant community in Karachi, Pakistan’s squalid Korangi Town area resulted in From South to South: Refugees as Migrants: The Rohingya in Pakistan.

As the tide rose on the Naf River, the camp became a toxic mix of disease and human waste. Every day. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

I was covering the Rohingya issue, which began in earnest with ethnic pogroms in 1991, before it became to relatively hotter topic than it is now in 2012. Trying to bring attention to the crisis either here at the UN headquarters or down in DC on Capitol Hill was essentially a fool’s errand. To think that POTUS would be visiting Burma at that time (or any other time in modern history) seemed absurd.

Hell on earth. I will never forget my treks around the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh’s deep south. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

Now everyone from CNN to the International Crisis Group is trying to catch up to speed and sound alarm bells on the world’s most persecuted, stateless people who are enduring a campaign of ethnic cleansing in part to make way for the development of offshore transnational natural gas projectson the Arakan coast. And the fact that international attention is being brought to these pogroms is a good thing, shame that it takes killings and displacements of thousands for it to come to the fore.

A Rohingya refugee girl from Burma’s Rakhine State waits to have her id created at a Medecins Sans Frontieres-assisted camp in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Division. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

A key reason the Rohingya keep being killed and pushed out into the sea is that they are a stateless people. The insidious Burmese regime that tells the world it is gently democratizing continues to insist that these poor unwanted souls are ‘illegal migrants’ while the Sheikha Hasina administration in Dhaka cruelly maintains that the Rohingya are ‘economic migrants‘ that it cannot be responsible for aiding while its own citizenry go without. The Rohingya exist between the guns of the Tatmadaw (the Burmese military) and the Bangladesh Rifles (Border Guard Bangladesh). The Rohingya are hemmed in by a difficult geography with their only remaining option to try and reach refuge in Thailand by sea. Many of them then drown in unsound vessels and rough seas.

A gaunt Rohingya woman who was fortunate enough to find temporary shelter in southern Bangladesh. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

As China and India, and now the United States, compete for economic and political influence in Burma, there has been no indication that the persecution of the Rohingya will be tamped down. The array of ethnic questions burning on the country’s periphery have been alight since independence from Britain in 1948-less than six months after the dissolution/independence of British India-have not been quelled with the re-introduction of Burma onto the world stage. Just because superficial change such as the return of Coke and Pepsi have taken place in no way beens that the Tatmadaw will not continue their brutal policies of scorched earth pogroms and enslavement. They may end up being emboldened.

A refugee gets employment as a day laborer building…a new refugee camp. An endless cycle of statelessness. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

 

The War That Was Barely Mentioned

November 8th, 2012 No comments

New York- While Americans in many quarters erupted with both joy and relief that Barack Hussein Obama was reelected POTUS while right-wing ideologues and extremists (which may simply be cover for racism in some quarters) constantly harping on the just-around-the-corner reemergence of so-called (though debunked) ‘American exceptionalism‘ pronounced the country politically dead, there was a disquieting dearth of serious foreign policy debate among American voters expressed in the mainstream media.

I decided to post these heretofore unpublished images of clandestine soldiers from 11 years ago in a small effort to demonstrate just how long Americans have been at war in Afghanistan. I blacked out their eyes in photoshop to give the images that whole cloak and dagger ‘redacted’ look.

An American Special Forces soldier from an Operational Detachment Alpha unit mills through a curious crowd of men and boys (no females) after the Toyota Landcruiser he was riding in blew out a tire. Note that his uniform is distinctly devoid of rank or any other military insignia. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

American soldiers continued to be killed in Afghanistan throughout the election cycle with another solider reportedly killed in an insurgent attack in Uruzgan Province less than four days before the election. America’s two principal Anglosphere military allies, the UK and Australia, also continued to withstand troop deaths in the lead up to Obama’s second term as president. While numerically small in light of US fatalities, they are comparatively significant in relation their respective population sizes vis-a-vis the United States.

The US has lost a total of 286 troops in Afghanistan this year alone according to iCasualties.org and there are still nearly two months left of 2012 with a total of 2150 since 2001.

And let us not forget that Afghans in the ANA and ANP keep dying too.  In the name and manner attacking Afghan security forces, the insurgency continues to slaughter a number of hapless civilians as well. Somehow though, grave human rights violations are either cast aside in an election cycle or even rendered ‘unpatriotic’ when showing concern for such deaths abroad causes natural friction with Americans who have swaddled themselves in the unevolved retrograde tenets of isolationism in the context of an incredibly difficult economic crisis at home.

An American Special Forces soldier looks on as several Afghan mechanics replace the tire on his white Landcruiser in Mazar-e-Sharif while the prisoner uprising-cum-massacre at the mud crenellated fort of Qala-e-Jangi was raging. Look how tall these guys are! They were towering over the locals with every step. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

The question remains: what will another Obama term do to actually end not the war per se, but end American involvement in Afghanistan? While the President trumpeted the withdrawal of American combat troops Operation New Dawn, the 2010 successor to Operation Iraqi Freedom that most Americans were entirely unaware of, there are still tens of thousands of armed contract soldiers in Iraq who are at best woefully under regulated. In effect, the United States IS still in Iraq though under a different guise.

The struggle for Iraq has in no way ended. Insurgent attacks on Iraqi security forces and Shia civilians continue to be successfully mounted. If and when the United States withdraws its vast combat forces from Afghanistan, it is highly likely that the 1990s civil war fault lines will be reignited to some degree but with the influx of newer arms and better vehicles. America may leave Afghanistan at the midway point of Obama’s second chance in office, but there is little indication an American president can actually “end” the war in Afghanistan.

Will Obama’s little publicized Iraq solution be a template for a planned 2014 Afghan pull out? Of course the reality of Iraq’s human geography is far different than that of Afghanistan. Iraq’s highly urbanized population lay mostly along the north-south veins of the Tigris and al-Furat (Euphrates) River whereas Afghanistan continues to remain a primarily decentralized rural demography. In essence Iraq has things to protect-oil infrastructure, diplomatic installations and local governance institutions which require continued defense. This is where the contractors come in. Afghanistan has far fewer such ‘target rich’ features but nonetheless the contractor business model is humming along at the fractured juncture of South and Central Asia, despite its disturbingly low profile.

Guns-for-hire coupled with the increasing presence of armed aerial drones mean that America’s notoriously bloated globe spanning military profile remains undiminished even under successive democratic administrations.

The fort of Qala-e-Jangi, site of the November 2001 Taliban prisoner uprising that left hundreds of captives dead, pictured in 2008. The fighters had surrendered after being surrounded during the battle of Kunduz and were brought to the fort by order of Abdurrashid Dostum’s Junbish-i-Melli troops. Things quickly went south as we were to find out. When I visited the site these many years later, it evoked a painterly, bucolic feel with cows nibbling on verdant grass and children playing at the base of its mighty walls. ©2008 Derek Henry Flood

Zabiullah Mujahid, the vociferous Taliban spokesman, threw in the Islamic Emirate’s two-cents following the close of Tuesday’s polls hoping to appeal to Americans pragmatically: “Obama has realised that the Americans are tired of the war and the backbreaking costs of the war…Therefore, he should pullout the occupying forces from our country as soon as possible and prevent the deaths of more Americans.”

From Unreasoned Righteousness to Reason

November 5th, 2012 No comments

Leo Villareal’s BUCKYBALL installation in Madison Square Park. Seems like an obnoxious display of power when thousands in the city are still without electricity (although its LED tube lighting may use relatively little wattage it looks abrupt when considering those on the city’s forsaken periphery).  ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- So weird. A week ago today I was getting thrown around Long Island City by 90 mph gales as Hurricane Sandy thrashed Queen’s over gentrified littoral while NYPD barked on loudspeakers through sheets of rain not to get near the piers while shooting photos. In the interim, houses were smashed and burned, whole boardwalk areas ravaged and now tens of thousands of people are not homeless from one day to the next. But most of the lasting damage was hyper localized to where people in midtown and uptown areas of Manhattan had their lives interrupted only when the subways were demobilized all over the city as a precaution. I trekked around in an effort to do what I could to document the crisis–with an image from this blog getting selected for New York Magazine’s Sandy portfolio “What We Saw When the Lights Went Out.”

Many, many improvements have been quickly made, particularly in the areas of Manhattan that were politically and economically prioritized. But in the outskirts of the so-called outer-boroughs, people may likely freeze tonight, out of sight, out of mind from the rest of this city. People will shiver in the cold shadow of tomorrow’s mega ego election where a wobbly incumbent  who’s carried out highly dubious extra-judicial assassinations of American citizens in Yemen, faces off against a “weird Mormon billionaire” as an old friend of mine put it (though he’s only worth a paltry reported $250 million).

As largely toothless idioms like “the new normal” and neologisms like “superstorm” were thrown around all week by politicians and media figures, significant change will not occur until long outdated thought paradigms are cast aside forever, a highly unlikely proposition. Americans have been brainwashed for the last decade that Sunni terrorism of the Salafi-jihadi strain is the biggest threat to their survival (or messianic Shia Twelver state warfare from Iran if one is a Likudnik).

This narrative is only remotely believable if one narrowly views the struggle for and within humanity as amongst various interpretations of monotheisms. Rubbish. The fundamental threat to human survival is a catastrophic misreading of the environment, human and animal evolution, and the development of the solar system we inhabit. The media and politicos are extremely unhelpful in this regard describing the violent characteristics of a terrifying natural occurrence like Sandy using terms like “deluge” and “biblical proportions.”

Not to say these forces in the world are not genuine threats but they are a mere blip during the long evolutionary march of history. The terror wars have spawned a vast and mostly unregulated and hence unaccountable security industry that is now here to stay. Fear Inc. has been very profitable for some but has provided little palpable public benefit beyond those personally enriched by constantly over stating imminent threats on the horizon. In this period, the global  environmental crisis has carried on untended to as the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’ Developing a smarter, faster drone air force to chase finite  “bad guys” in the world’s ungoverned geography is far less challenging than confronting large scale glacial meltdown and rising sea levels.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo encapsulated my point perfectly the other day with this quote: “[Utility companies] They’re regulated by the public service commission. The utilities were not created in the Bible. They’re not in the Old Testament. They’re not in the New Testament. God never said, ‘New York shall have these utilities forever, and Con Ed is the utility, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s really not in the Bible.” Here is a case of a frustrated, angry political leader–perhaps without giving such a statement much rational forethought–injecting and legitimating Abrahamic themes into the public discourse thereby doing a great disservice to his millions of constituents by obfuscating the real history and nature of…nature.

Figures like Cuomo are not wont to offhandedly riff on the Jurassic Period or the Mesozoic Era during such a public tirade but perhaps they should. Referencing Noah in an era of bitter and confused climate change debate certainly isn’t helpful. Western observers scoff at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for hailing the sought after return on the Mahdi–the promised return of the Twelfth Imam who has been in a state of occultation since he ‘disappeared’ during the year 874 A.D.  But are American leaders pandering to the masses really all that different in this respect?

We need more reasoned, empirical science and far less politicized seance if people are to grasp the environmental threats that lay before them and realize the inherent grand context of such events. It shall be no easy task. The “March of Unreason” continues.

Rather than a nonsensical “deluge,” Hurricane Sandy was part of a continuum of punctuated natural violence that has formed continents and oceans, and played a key role in human evolution and its great migrations. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Blackout

November 2nd, 2012 No comments

A ConEd power worker on First Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets in Peter Cooper Village, Manhattan as the blackout caused by Hurricane Sandy grinds on. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- Finally made it into Manhattan yesterday after nearly a week of storm imposed seclusion in the outer boroughs of the city. Subway service was partially restored to Midtown and I decided to hop on one of the inbound trains and explore what I’d heard from friends via text and the media. I walked from 33rd Street and Herald Square down to Houston and Broadway, from there to Avenue C, and up to 20th Street and First Avenue.

Most of lower Manhattan felt deserted like some lame Will Smith movie. Bicyclists were having a field day ruling the streets. In Union Square, there was a weird dichotomy where apparently those with cash ate a trendy food trucks doing a roaring trade and those without waiting in long food distribution line monitored by police. Walking around during the light of day was a bit eery but entirely manageable. Once I reached Avenue C as the dark descended, despite the heavy presence of emergency vehicles, it still felt as if the area was on the cusp of lawlessness.

Everywhere I walked south of 34th Street appeared like a frozen zone. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Residents of the Union Square area wait in line for a late afternoon food distribution as temperatures begin to drop. It felt as if everyone was homeless. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The city’s gasoline crisis has now become a paramount issue in the post-Sandy recovery. Not only are fuel supplies low or totally out but there is not electricity to power petrol stations. BP, Broadway and Lafayette (the old Gaseteria). ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Katz’s Delicatessen, an iconic 24/7 LES business that generally never closes, remains shuttered. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

An Iraq-beige National Guard vehicle pulls away from a makeshift food distribution center on the corner of Houston and Pitt Streets on the Lower East Side. Guardsmen were being tasked with distributing meals en masse is disaster-affected areas of the city. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

The dark apartment blocks of Manhattan’s Stuyvessant Town neighborhood are faintly lit by passing traffic on the adjacent FDR drive. Pedestrians pass each other on the streets with wariness with often the only sources of light sirens and cell phones. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A policeman directs otherwise anarchic traffic on First Avenue as stop lights sit dark for miles. Pedestrians cross at your own risk. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

Lower Manhattan has been deeply affected by explosions at the Con-Edison power station on 14th Street and Avenues C and D during the height of the storm surge. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood