Aung San Suu Kyi

Get out of the war

Tibetan monks in a vigorous debate

What are you fighting? By “war” I mean here a mindset, not combat between nations with tanks and bombs. The “war” I’m referring to is an attitude of conflict and animosity toward a person, object, or condition. Parents can feel at war with a misbehaving teenager, and certainly vice versa. Neighbors quarreling over a fence. Spouses edging toward divorce; divorced parents continuing to battle over holidays. Someone stuck in traffic, at war with other drivers. Ideologues reviling the other side. Kicking the chair after stubbing a toe against it.

The summer when I was 16, I worked as a camp counselor beside the Pacific Ocean, and there was a lot of skin diving (without scuba gear) into the forests of kelp. One time I foolishly swam into a thicket of kelp, thinking there was clear water just on the other side, but there was only more seaweed, with thick orangish leaves and long strong vines reaching up from the seabed below. I was trapped, running out of air, and began to panic. I battled the kelp, thrashing and jerking, which only wrapped it more tightly around me. After I don’t know how long, a clarity came over me and my war with the kelp ended. My diving mask was around my throat, my snorkel ripped out of my mouth, and I’d lost a fin. I slowly disentangled myself from the kelp rather than fighting it, working my way upward, finally clearing it, seeing the bright silver surface of the ocean above my head, and rising up to it and then the precious air.

We need to be able to stand up for ourselves, deal with tough things – including nearly drowning – and change what’s wrong and uphold what’s right. But when we do this while also caught in anger like a swimmer caught in kelp, that’s not good for us or others. A mind at war feels bad, full of irritation and fear. The body revves up, accumulating the gradual wear and tear of stress activation. Perceptions and beliefs get biased and defended. Reactions are turbocharged. All this prompts others to go to war with us, which then drives vicious cycles.

Getting caught in the mind of war is understandable and all too normal. The capacity and sometimes inclination to go to war are a part of human nature (amidst many other parts, including empathy, restraint, altruism, and love). Next, this part of a person is shaped further by culture, economic hardship, childhood, and life experiences. Then psychological factors get involved, such as identifying with your “case” against others, vengeance, holding onto grievances, or a general mood of reproach.

But whatever its causes, still, a mind at war is the responsibility of the person who has it.

How?

Recognize the causes. Be aware of the emotional payoffs in being at war, and the inner justifications. How did your approach to conflict get influenced by your upbringing and life experiences? Do you go to war because you don’t know another way? As you understand these causes more deeply, they’ll have less power over you.

Recognize when you’ve slid into war mode. Notice the tension and activation in the body, the righteousness and rigidity in the mind, the tangles of recurring conflicts with others. Be very aware of the experience and the impact on others, including innocent bystanders such as children. Considering all these costs, ask yourself: Do I really want to be at war here? Then make a choice. This moment of sincere choice is key. Without it, the momentum of war takes on a life of its own.

Pick a particular situation and imagine being strong and taking care of things without going to war, without throwing the hot coals that burn both others and yourself. How could you be firm and clear without slipping into righteousness or antagonism? Imagine someone who embodies this combination of strength, moral confidence, self-control, and non-reactivity to the warlikeness of others (two models for me are Martin Luther King, Jr. and Aung San Suu Kyi); imagine how this person might act in your situation, and see if you could be more like this yourself.

Take care of your real interests as best you can. If appropriate, try to repair with the other person (“non-violent communication” is a good approach). But if the other person ignores or punishes your efforts at repair, that’s not a good sign. Then if you can, name and try to repair the lack of repair – and if this effort is blocked as well, that’s a really bad sign. You may need to shrink the relationship – at least inside your own mind, if you can’t do this outside in the world – to the scale that is trustworthy and safe for you.

Bottom-line, look to the war as it happens inside you rather than getting swirled into the accusations, positions, threats, and recriminations around you. See the suffering in the other people and yourself, and see if you can have compassion for all parties. The world outside may not change. But if you end the war in your own head, you’ll feel better and act better. Which just might help the world around you to change for the better as well.

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Violent raid breaks up Burma mine protest

Thomas Fuller, New York Times: Security forces in Myanmar mounted a violent raid on Thursday against Buddhist monks and villagers who have been protesting the expansion of a copper mine. The crackdown was the largest since the civilian government of President Thein Sein came to power 20 months ago.

Witnesses said dozens of monks and other protesters were injured when the security forces used incendiary devices that set fire to protesters’ encampments outside the offices of the Chinese company in charge of the project. The company has a partnership with the powerful military in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

Photos from Burmese online news sites showed …

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Ethnic hatred tears apart a region of Burma

Thomas Fuller, New York Times: The Buddhist monastery on the edge of this seaside town is a picture of tranquillity, with novice monks in saffron robes finding shade under a towering tree and their teacher, U Nyarna, greeting a visitor in a sunlit prayer room.

But in these placid surroundings Mr. Nyarna’s message is discordant, and a far cry from the Buddhist precept of avoiding harm to living creatures. Unprompted, Mr. Nyarna launches into a rant against Muslims, calling them invaders, unwanted guests and “vipers in our laps.”

“According to Buddhist teachings we should not kill,” Mr. Nyarna said. “But when we feel …

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Obama to visit Burma as part of first post-election overseas trip

Peter Baker, NYT: President Obama’s first postelection overseas trip will be this month to Asia, where he is to make a historic visit to Burma as it moves toward democracy and reinforce his desire to reorient American foreign policy more toward the Pacific during his second term.

The White House announced on Thursday that the newly re-elected Mr. Obama would head to an annual international economic summit meeting in Cambodia and stop in Thailand and Myanmar. No sitting American president has visited either Myanmar or Cambodia, allowing Mr. Obama to underscore his commitment to the region.

The trip fits into a larger geopolitical …

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Buddhism’s dirty secret

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One of the things that makes Buddhism an attractive spiritual path for people in the west is its historical track record as a peaceful religion. You’ll often hear western Buddhists say that Buddhism has never had any holy wars, for example. But there’s a but…

Certainly, there’s nothing in the Buddha’s teaching to support violence. In essence, Buddhism is a religion of peace whose teachings have no place even for “righteous anger” or violence as a means of self-defense. As the Buddha said,

“Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching. Monks, even in such a situation you should train yourselves thus: ‘Neither shall our minds be affected by this, nor for this matter shall we give vent to evil words, but we shall remain full of concern and pity, with a mind of love, and we shall not give in to hatred.”

But there have been historical instances of Buddhists resorting to violence, or supporting violence. And there are instances of that in recent times, and those are going on right now. In the recent past there’s been ethnic cleansing in Bhutan, ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, and recently two disturbing reports from Burma (or Myanmar): the forced conversions to Buddhism of Christians, and violence and oppression against the Muslim minority.

Greg Constantine, an award-winning photojournalist from the U.S. and currently based in Southeast Asia, has published the first of a two-part series on the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority, who have faced discrimination in Burma, to the extent that hundreds of thousands have become homeless, many of them spilling over into neighboring Bangladesh, “where they are exploited, unrecognized, denied almost all humanitarian assistance, and in recent years, have faced a growing intolerance toward them by their Bangladeshi hosts.”

In Burma, Constantine says, the Rohingya “face severe restrictions on the right to marry, are subjected to forced labor and arbitrary land seizure and forced displacement, endure excessive taxes and extortion, and are denied the right to travel freely.”

Additionally,

“Most Rohingya are not permitted to travel beyond their village. Family household registers are updated regularly so the authorities know who and how many Rohingya are in each house. Any discrepancies to these records are punishable by fines and arrest.”

This is a disgraceful state of affairs. In a sense, this says nothing about Buddhism, since the principles of Buddhism forbid violence, and since merely adopting the label “Buddhist” does not magically transform people into saints. But in another sense the Burmese government is bringing discredit upon the name of Buddhism by perpetrating these actions. That such suffering is being brought about in a country that proclaims to be Buddhist should be unacceptable to all Buddhists.

Burma has made huge strides forward in the last few years, with the military dictatorship having handed over power to a democratic government. Today, Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest for opposing military rule in Burma, is at the White House to meet President Obama and receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Buddhists should hope that she is being asked for an accounting of recent anti-Christian and anti-Muslim actions in Burma, and how they can be ended. This is not to suggest that Suu Kyi is in any way responsible for these actions, or that she approves of them. I’m sure she isn’t, and doesn’t. The forces of reaction in Burma are still strong, with the military insisting on holding 25% of seats in the country’s government, and it’s possible that she’s not in a position to affect these unjust policies. But questions should be asked.

Thein Sein, Burma’s president, is attending the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week, presenting another opportunity for Burma to be asked to account for the actions of its security forces. The pressures that helped Burma move from military dictatorship to fragile democracy can perhaps help stop further human rights violations.

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Suu Kyi hopes victory is dawn of new era in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi claimed victory Monday in Burma’s historic by-election, saying she hoped it would mark the beginning of a new era for the long-repressed country.

Suu Kyi spoke to thousands of cheering supporters who gathered outside her opposition party headquarters a day after her party declared she had won a parliamentary seat in the closely watched vote.

The Election Commission has not yet confirmed the results, but government officials have commented on Suu Kyi’s victory and the people of Burma – also known as Myanmar – have reacted with jubilation.

“The success we are having is the success of the people,” Suu Kyi …

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Freed prisoners add momentum, risks to Myanmar reform

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Aung Hla Tun, Reuters: Buddhist monk Shin Gambira endured solitary confinement, beatings and sleep deprivation in Myanmar’s prisons for his leading role in the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” — peaceful protests that were crushed by the country’s military.

Finally free at a monastery on the outskirts of Myanmar’s main city of Yangon, about the worst he will say of his captors is that they were “very rude and cruel”.

“Don’t let me elaborate on it. Let bygones be bygones,” the 33-year-old former protest leader said of his ordeal, following his release last week with about 300 other political prisoners.

Interviews by Reuters with more than a dozen of the newly released prisoners reveal a similar remarkable lack of bitterness toward their captors after years of imprisonment and torture for their beliefs. They described overcrowded cells at the notorious Insein detention center, watching a fellow inmate die from a lack of medical care, and routine deprivation of water and sleep among other abuses.

But nearly all said they backed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to place trust in the government’s reform pledges and take part in April by-elections that could give her National League for Democracy (NLD) party a vital foothold in parliament, part of dramatic changes underway in the former Burma.

Still, the interviews with the former prisoners in Myanmar reveal an undercurrent of scepticism about the government’s true intentions and an impatience for more concrete democratic reforms.

Many also expressed concern that Suu Kyi risks weakening her powerful political capital if, as some believe, she takes a ministerial role as part of the reconciliation process. That could point to future tensions within the opposition and complicate the reform process if the pace of change stutters in coming months.

Sources within the opposition told Reuters there was already intense debate among dissidents over whether to set up a new political party as an alternative to the NLD. Opponents of such a move fear it would dilute the opposition’s message and pave the way for further splintering.

Htay Kywe, who helped lead pro-democracy protests in 1988 in which thousands of demonstrators were killed by soldiers, said Suu Kyi had made a “practical choice” to run in the by-elections and help restore the rule of law in the country.

“This is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi trying in the most non-violent way to work for the country’s transition to democracy. We support this,” said the 44-year-old, referring to Suu Kyi by her honorific title.

Htay Kywe, who spent about 17 years in prison in two spells after his first arrest in 1991, is among many members of the so-called “88 generation” who have been released in recent months and who are sure to play an important role in opposition debate.

The largest release yet of high-profile dissidents promises to speed up the national reconciliation process and provides a powerful argument for the United States and other Western nations to lift economic sanctions against the impoverished but resource-rich country.

Business executives, mostly from Asia, have swarmed into the commercial capital, Yangon, in recent weeks to hunt for investment opportunities in the country of 60 million people, one of the last frontier markets in Asia. Myanmar is also at the centre of a struggle for strategic influence as the United States sees a chance to expand its ties there and balance China‘s fast-growing economic and political clout in the region.

Myanmar has thawed astonishingly quickly in the past year.

The government has begun peace talks with ethnic rebels, relaxed its strict media censorship, allowed trade unions and protests, and showed signs of pulling back from the powerful economic and political orbit of its giant neighbour China. It was rewarded last November when Hillary Clinton made the first visit to the country by a U.S. secretary of state since 1955.

The exact number of political detainees still locked up in Myanmar’s prisons remains in doubt. But the opposition and government agree it is now in the hundreds. That may not be much higher than some of its Southeast Asian neighbours, making it hard for countries to argue in favour of maintaining sanctions.

Communist Vietnam, which has a bilateral trade deal with Washington, for instance, probably has political prisoners “in the hundreds”, said Bangkok-based Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.

RECONCILIATION RISKS

Last week’s release brings the number of political detainees freed since last May to 645, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. This number represents a significant body of high-profile dissidents who are likely to influence internal opposition debate.

The latest group, ranging from the former head of military intelligence to a musician who penned songs about Suu Kyi, rejoin the political scene just as the government and opposition engage in a delicate, high-stakes dance toward reconciliation.

The views of this respected group of dissident opinion-formers are a vital gauge of support for Suu Kyi’s leap of faith in engaging with the nominally civilian government. If they clamour for faster reforms than the government or Suu Kyi are comfortable with, for example, it could risk a backlash from military hardliners who many observers believe are eager for a chance to reverse the democratisation process.

“We shouldn’t settle for the present situation, there is a lot to be done,” said Gambira, the freed Buddhist monk.

“Since the people were deprived of everything under a brutal regime for about 50 years they tend to be satisfied when they get something, compared with nothing in the past. I’d like to stress there is no room for complacency at present.”

Sceptics worry that Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, herself released from house arrest in late 2010, could be walking into a trap, handing valuable international legitimacy to the government before any fundamental changes in Myanmar’s political system are secured. The United States, which has made the freeing of political prisoners a condition for lifting sanctions, said after the latest release it would exchange ambassadors with Myanmar for the first time in 20 years.

But Myanmar’s generals still effectively control parliament after a deeply flawed 2010 election and the constitution, written in 2008, guarantees the military’s dominant role in politics.

“Concerning the overall political situation, I’m not that optimistic. I’ll put it at about 55 percent,” said Khun Tun Oo, chairman of an ethnic Shan party allied to Suu Kyi’s NLD and who was released after nearly seven years in jail.

He plans to re-register his party but not to run in the upcoming by-elections, which many believe would legitimise the 2010 elections widely seen as a sham.

“No doubt she (Suu Kyi) will have her say but I’m not sure she will be able to change the constitution … the military is in a position to put a spanner in the works since they have the constitutional right.”

MEDITATION AND GARDENING

Khun Tun Oo appears to have suffered relatively little torture in prison, but others were less fortunate.

Sithu Zeya, a 22-year-old journalist for exiled media outlet Democratic Voice of Burma, said he had to drink toilet water for the first five days in prison in 2010 and went without sleep for 15 days. He was regularly beaten and saw an old man in his cell die from breathing difficulties after medical help failed to arrive on time. Like many fellow prisoners, he found solace in meditation and limited chances to read and play sports.

“We have been released because foreign countries demanded it, not because they (the government) think it was wrong to have political prisoners,” the former biology student told Reuters.

He said he supported Suu Kyi’s participation in the elections but worried she would be a weaker voice as a lawmaker. “I don’t want that to happen,” he said.

Perhaps the most remarkable figure to emerge from detention last week was former military intelligence chief and prime minister Khin Nyunt, whose purge from the government in 2004 turned him overnight from one of the regime’s most powerful figures into a lowly prisoner.

Ironically, he coped with his seven years under house arrest on charges of corruption in much the same way as Suu Kyi — meditating every day and tending to his garden.

Deprived of financial support, he said he and his wife scraped a living by selling orchids from their garden and later by selling his clothes, including traditional silk “longyi” garments he had received as gifts when he was thought to be the regime’s third most powerful official.

“It’s embarrassing to tell this but this is the truth,” he told Reuters at his home and former prison.

He ruled out a return to politics, saying he wanted to focus on his religious practice. Asked if he thought President Thein Sein could operate independently in his dealings with Suu Kyi, he smiled. “I think so, but I don’t know for sure.”

A concern repeatedly voiced by the freed dissidents was that the revered Suu Kyi could jeopardise her iconic and clean status by being drawn into a flawed political system.

“I’m fully confident in Aunty Suu’s leadership. She’s a national leader,” said 32-year-old blogger Nay Phone Latt, who was picked up by security forces at a Yangon café in January 2008. “But I’m really worried that she will become a cabinet member. Then she might lose contact with the party.”

Win Min, a Burmese political scientist at Harvard University and a student protester in the 1988 uprising, said the newly released 88 generation faced a challenge to push for genuine reforms without giving hardliners an excuse to crack down.

“At this critical juncture, 88 generation leaders may want to work in a space between the politics of struggle and normal politics to encourage the continuation of reform in a non-threatening way to the hardliners,” he said.

“For the moderates in the government, the challenge is how to work with the opposition and the 88 generation leaders to improve the economy on the grassroots level.”

“PEOPLE STILL SUFFERING”

Many freed prisoners cautioned that ordinary Burmese, struggling in poverty and often at the mercy of authoritarian local officials, have yet to benefit from the changes.

“They keep saying the higher authorities have changed, but the officials on the ground have not changed so the people are still suffering,” said Zeya, the journalist. “The reforms have yet to make positive impacts on the general public so I can’t say they are successful just yet.”

A near-term source of tension is likely to be the fate of the political prisoners who remain behind bars.

Of the 604 political prisoners claimed by the NLD, the government only released 302 by its count, saying that 107 had already been released, others had been double-counted or died and that 128 would not be freed because they had committed serious crimes such as using explosives.

“I want the government to carry out more meaningful changes like releasing the remaining prisoners of conscience, which really will benefit the people and the country,” said Nilar Thein, a female leader of the 88 generation whose latest arrest was in 2008.

For her, though, the most promising sign of real change in Myanmar was the confident smiles that greeted her on her recent release from detention. “I was really encouraged to see the courage and confidence on the faces of the people,” she said.

“There is more transparency then before. It was a big difference from my previous releases.”

(Additional reporting by Martin Petty in Bangkok.; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Jason Szep and Jonathan Thatcher)

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Suu Kyi to spend three days in meditation centre in Rangoon

Myo Thant (Mizzima): National League for Democracy (NLD) General-Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi will go on a three-day retreat in a Rangoon meditation centre from Friday to Sunday, according to Win Htein, the NLD office chief.

“Starting Friday she will spend three days in the meditation centre at the Shwetaunggone Pannita Yama Monastery to practise meditation,” he told Mizzima. The monastery has three branches in Rangoon and he declined to identify the monastery, but some observers said it is believed to be the Shwetaunggone Pannita Yama Monastery at “10-Mile Hill” in Rangoon. After her release from house arrest in November 2010, she donated food to monks in the Shwetaunggone Pannita Yama Monastery…

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s hope for genuine democracy

In a program aired on Feb. 11, Aung San Suu Kyi discusses forgiveness, the importance of being concerned more for others than for oneself, and the benefits of meditation.

Q: I served as the general secretary of the National Democratic Congress Party when I was in Burma, and you stayed with our party when you visited the Kachin State back in 1989. I am very happy to hear that you have now been released from detention. I would like to know what you intend to do to bring about change in our country, what you will do when those changes happen, and how you will maintain those changes. Also, I would like to know how you would change the attitudes and beliefs of the people so that they can adapt to a constitutional democracy, taking into consideration the present situation that people are in.

A: I still remember with gratitude how the National Democratic Congress Party provided me with their kind hospitality during my visit. Once democracy is established in Burma, it will be very important to reform and change the educational system so that the attitudes and habits of a genuine democracy may take root in the society. Additionally, I think that various methods of disseminating news and information, of educating people, and of holding discussions and consultations in a free and open manner must be used to help people understand and participate in this effort of transformation. Since this effort must cover the country as a whole, we must organize to bring about a powerful force of cooperation from the entire country.

Q: I am a Chin ethnic national living in the UK. What kinds of things must one avoid in the process of achieving national reconciliation—especially when working with the ethnic nationality groups? What kinds of things could be a hindrance, and what kinds of things should be encouraged?

A: It is necessary to be able to see others’ points of view, so that there will be understanding and trust among the people. It will be difficult to have an understanding if one focuses only on one’s own wishes and concerns. It is important to have mutual and reciprocal respect for one another in order to have unity among the ethnic nationalities. If this cannot be achieved easily, one can at least develop love and friendship by being sincere and genuinely wishing to accomplish it.

Q: I am part of the Karen community living in Oslo, Norway. The military government has repressed you in many ways. They have given you one problem after another, and have even split up your family, but you have not retaliated in any way. You have focused only on working toward achieving national reconciliation. I can see that is your forgiveness that has allowed you to overcome all your difficulties. Could you tell me what you have done to acquire such a forgiving character?

A: As I see it, there are a lot of other people who have suffered and are continuing to suffer more than I have. So what I have experienced is not worth talking about. I have also been able to calm my mind with the help of the good comrades around me. I think that one can have peace of mind if one concentrates more on what one can do for others rather than thinking about one’s own problems.

Q: I am a Shan national now living in Canada. With regard to the 2nd Panglong Conference, if the conference is held and if ethnic concerns are discussed, issues such as self-administration and self-determination—which the ethnics have been longing for—are bound to be brought up, just as they were at the 1st Panglong Conference. If these issues are discussed, I think it would be very difficult for the military government that now rules the country to participate.

A: The 2nd Panglong is intended mainly to build and develop a genuine spirit of Union. When we discuss issues like self-administration and self-determination, these will be based on that spirit of Union, with the goal of achieving that spirit as well. Since this will be done without harm to anyone, there is no reason for anyone who values the spirit of Union not to participate in the process.

Q: Mother Suu, I am a former soldier. I lost my right leg and right hand due to land-mine injuries while serving in the Burmese military. Now, I am living in the United States. While I was in Burma, my disability pension was 400 kyat (U.S. 50 cents) a month. When I arrived in this country, I received disability assistance of U.S. $674 a month. In this country, if you are over 65 years of age, the government give you a pension whether you have worked for the government or not. The government also provides allowances for housing and food for people who are unemployed. This kind of system does not seem to exist even in communist countries like China. Whenever I hear of older people and the disabled begging for food in our country, I wish that a social welfare system like the one in the United States could quickly be established in Burma. What are your views with regard to this?

A: I would like to applaud and honor the strong will that you have to start a new life in the United States in spite of your physical disabilities. We in our own country would also like to have a social welfare system that would provide security for all those people who are disabled in body or in mind, people who are looking for work, and people who are aged and old. To get this, we need a government that will guarantee democratic rights and maintain a strong treasury. We are working to achieve those goals. May you be healthy and fulfilled with the good things that you desire, my son.

Q: I live in the state of Virginia in the United States. I have heard that you practiced meditation while you were under house arrest. Now that you have been released from detention, have you been able to find time to meditate at all? Also, when I was living in Japan, my Japanese friends would ask me why the Burmese, who are Buddhists, have not been able to get on the road to negotiations. What kind of mental attitude should a Buddhist have?

A: It is true that I do not have the time now to meditate as I did when I was under house arrest, but I am trying my very best to do so. Although the majority of the people in our country are Buddhists, it is hard to know how many of them really take Buddhism to heart. I consider myself only to be at the stage where I am endeavoring to become a good Buddhist. I think that if everyone tries to reduce greed, anger, and illusion as much as they can, we can then quickly get on the road to negotiation.

[via Radio Free Asia]
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