November 8, 2008

Stop underwriting the Burmese military junta

I've just heard—thanks to my Swedish friend Eva—about a campaign to pressure Lloyd’s of London to stop insuring the military dictators of Burma. I thought that it was more than well worth a post, so here we go again with the issue of Burma.

First of all, let’s summarize the situation. Burma's military junta has been hanging on to power for years using repressive tactics, such as jailing monks and opposition leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi. Recently the military junta has also been denying their citizens relief after last year’s devastating cyclone. Up till now Burma’s military dictators remain entrenched, propped up by dealings with Western companies. Well, one way the Burmese democracy movement has found to push for change is to cut off the businesses that prop them up by shaming those companies themselves—exposing them one by one, and forcing big companies to pull out—especially the insurers who underwrite the generals’ economic stranglehold.

Lloyd’s of London, the worlds foremost insurance market, is precisely one of the generals’ lifelines—Lloyd’s chairman Lord Levene also sits on the board of the junta-linked Total, which pays Rangoon $2m a day for oil. That is why the campaigners—Burma Campaign-UK and the Avaaz group—are urging to join them now by mass emailing the huge company, while the media furore is growing, to push Lloyd’s to terminate its Burmese contracts to save face.

“The Burmese people’s struggle is long and tough,” say the campaigners, “but as in South Africa, international pressure on the regime’s exploitative ventures could tip the balance. Because it’s hard or impossible for them to continue without insurance, this is an effective and wide-reaching approach for citizens everywhere to have a real impact.”

So far, as a result, the British government has begun to ask Lloyd's to cease its business with the Burmese military junta. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of emails and telephone calls have been bombarding key staff at Lloyd’s of London.

I think it's a very worthwhile cause. Please follow this link to take action.

What went wrong with the ‘old soldier’

With his “campaign autopsy,” in yesterday’s Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer pointed out, in my view correctly, John McCain’s merits and mistakes, and above all how difficult and impossible his mission was:

Considering the carnage to both capital and labor (which covers just about everybody), even a Ronald Reagan could not have survived. The fact that John McCain got 46 percent of the electorate when 75 percent said the country was going in the wrong direction is quite remarkable.

However crushing the external events, McCain did make two significant unforced errors. His suspension of the campaign during the economic meltdown was a long shot that not only failed, it created the McCain-the-erratic meme that deeply undermined his huge advantage over Obama in perception of leadership.

The choice of Sarah Palin was also a mistake. I'm talking here about its political effects, not the sideshow psychodrama of feminist rage and elite loathing that had little to do with politics and everything to do with cultural prejudices, resentments and affectations.

Palin was a mistake (" near suicidal," I wrote on the day of her selection) because she completely undercut McCain's principal case against Obama: his inexperience and unreadiness to lead. And her nomination not only intellectually undermined the readiness argument. It also changed the election dynamic by shifting attention, for days on end, to Palin's preparedness, fitness and experience -- and away from Obama's.

McCain thought he could steal from Obama the "change" issue by running a Two Mavericks campaign. A fool's errand from the very beginning. It defied logic for the incumbent-party candidate to try to take "change" away from the opposition. Election Day exit polls bore that out with a vengeance. Voters seeking the "change candidate" went 89 to 9 for Obama.

Last but not least, what is worth acknowledging, according to Krauthammer, is that

McCain ran a valiant race against impossible odds. He will be -- he should be -- remembered as the most worthy presidential nominee ever to be denied the prize.