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Archive for September 2009

State-sponsored conspiracy theories part five: Gaddafi suggests swine flu is a man-made bio-weapon

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From The Guardian

He tore up a copy of the UN charter in front of startled delegates, accused the security council of being an al-Qaida like terrorist body, called for George Bush and Tony Blair to be put on trial for the Iraq war, demanded $7.7tn in compensation for the ravages of colonialism on Africa, and wondered whether swine flu was a biological weapon created in a military laboratory. At one point, he even demanded to know who was behind the killing of JFK. All in all, a pretty ordinary 100 minutes in the life of the colonel.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 24, 2009 at 6:05 am

“Don’t Get Fooled Again” at Leicester Skeptics in the Pub

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I had an excellent time on Tuesday talking about state-sponsored conspiracy theories to Leicester “Skeptics in the Pub”. The event was masterfully-convened by Simon Perry, who also happens to be one of the chief authors of the “quacklash” against the General Chiropractic Council’s misguided and heavy-handed abuse of UK libel law to attack freedom of speech. Also in attendance was the legendary Neil Denny, of “Little Atoms” fame.

In less than two years, Leicester skeptics have come from nowhere to being able to draw a crowd of 100 people on a Tuesday night on a regular basis. There were some interesting chats afterwards, and it was also great to meet James, Andy and Al. Unfortunately the feed to the Ipadio phonecast didn’t work 100% on this occasion, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be fixed and does like a great idea for future events.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 21, 2009 at 6:10 am

Ungpakorn’s mythbusting article on Thai politics (reportedly blocked by Thai authorities)

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From Asia Sentinel

Three years after a royalist coup, nothing is solved

On September 19, 2006, the Thai army toppled the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra. Soldiers sported yellow royal ribbons and the military junta claimed that they were staging the coup to protect “Democracy with the King as the Head of State.”

They certainly were not protecting democracy. The coup came after massive street demonstrations against Thaksin by the royalist and conservative People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), where many PAD members and leaders of the Democrat Party had called for the King to sack the elected prime minister and appoint another one. Later, the yellow-shirted PAD took on a semi-fascist nature, using extreme nationalism and having its own armed guard. They used violence on the streets of Bangkok.

It was always an exaggeration to claim that “all Thais revere the King” or that “the monarchy has held the country together for decades.” Statements like that gloss over the level of coercion surrounding public attitudes to the monarchy, the deep tensions in society and the serious lack of power, courage and character shown by this king throughout his reign. Nevertheless, for 20 years after the mid 1980s the monarchy was very popular. This was more to do with the weakness of the opposition and the level of promotion that the institution received, rather than any “ancient or natural” love for the king among Thais. Yet, it was enough to convince most Thais that monarchism was deeply embedded in society.

The present crisis has shattered these illusions. Since the coup, the royalists have been promoting the king’s “Sufficiency Economy” ideology, which basically argues against redistribution of wealth. At the same time, Budget Bureau documents show that the public purse spent more than Bt6 billion (US$278.2 million) on the monarchy in 2008, mainly for the Royal Household Bureau (more than Bt2 billion), royal overseas visits (Bt500 million), Royal Thai Aid-De-Camp Department (over Bt400 million) and the rest for security by the police and army. This figure did not include the cost of the new royal plane fleet, which amounted to Bt 3.65 billion.

Some commentators who ought to know better, however, go to great lengths in supporting illusions about the monarchy. Benjamin Zawacki, Southeast Asia researcher for Amnesty International, making a disgraceful comment on an 18 year jail sentence given to a Red Shirt activist for making a speech against the Monarchy, said that “you have an institution here ( the monarchy) that has played an important role in the protection of human rights in Thailand. We can see why the monarchy needs to be protected” (by lese majeste laws). There is absolutely no evidence that the king has ever protected human rights. In fact, the opposite is true. Just look at what happened on 6th October 1976., when police and the military cracked down on students protesting the return of Field Marshall Thanom Kittachakorn to Thailand. They killed at least 46 people and probably many more. The statement is not surprising, however, since the Amnesty International office in Thailand is closely associated with the PAD.

Immediately after the coup in 2006, there was no mass response by the millions of citizens who had repeatedly voted for Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) government. But a small group of activists who called themselves “the 19th September Network Against the Coup” did stage a protest and continued to organize repeated protests. I was one of those people who protested against the coup. But we were not supporters of Thaksin and were critical of his gross human rights abuses in the South and in the War on Drugs, in which as many as 2,500 people were gunned down. Since then, the destruction of democracy by the conservative elites has continued relentlessly and has stimulated the growth of a grass-roots pro-democracy movement called the Red Shirts. It has long become necessary to take sides. That is why I joined the Red Shirts in November 2008.

After writing a new pro-military Constitution and using the courts to dissolve The Thai Rak Thai party, the military junta held fresh elections in 2007. This was won by the Peoples’ Power Party (PPP), a new pro-Thaksin party. Again the election results were ignored. The conservative courts, violent protests by the PAD, including the shutting down of the international airports, plus behind scenes activity by the army, eventually resulted in an undemocratic government with Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as the Prime Minister in December 2009.

Thailand took further steps backward with the introduction of draconian censorship, the use of lese majeste laws against pro-democracy activists and the creation by the government of the armed paramilitary gang called the Blue Shirts, who are thought to be soldiers out of uniform. They are controlled by government politicians such as Newin Chidchob and Sutep Teuksuban. The reason for the creation of the Blue Shirts is that PAD is beyond the control of the government and hence there are attempts to limit its power. Nevertheless, the Foreign Minister is a PAD supporter and he took part in the illegal airport occupation.

The Red Shirts have continued to evolve. Mass meetings of ordinary people, numbering hundreds of thousands, were held in sports stadiums in Bangkok. The movement was initially built by former Thai Rak Thai politicians, but it quickly evolved into a grass-roots movement with branches in most communities throughout the country and even abroad. There are local educational groups, community radio stations and websites.

In April 2009, for the fourth time in 40 years, troops opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok, firing live rounds and training rounds to clear protesters from the intersection near the Victory Monument in Bangkok, injuring at least 70 people and killing two. Although the Army later claimed that live rounds were only fired into the air, Human Rights Watch argued that live ammunition was fired directly at protesters.

Some months later, a tape recording of a cabinet meeting was leaked to the public in which Abhistit was caught urging the military to create a situation in which they could shoot the Red Shirt protesters. Each time the army has shot unarmed protesters in Thailand, the aim has been the same: to protect the interests of the conservative elites who have run the country for the past 70 years. This time, the protesters were Red Shirts. Since then, Abhisit’s military-backed government has repeatedly used “internal security” as an excuse to prevent legitimate street protest. They have declared what amounts to martial law under the Internal Security Act in Bangkok over the next few days.

Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party was modernizing and this is why the conservatives hated it. For the first time in decades, a party gained mass support from the poor because it believed that the poor were not a burden. They argued that the poor should be “stakeholders” rather than serfs. These populist policies were developed after the 1997 Asian economic crisis and were a result of widespread consultations in society. This was no socialist party, but a party of big business committed to free-market policies at a macro and global level, and Keynesian policies at the village or grass-roots level. When the party came to power in 2001, the banks had stopped lending and there was an urgent need to stimulate the economy. It represented the modernizing interests of an important faction of the capitalist class.

The major forces behind the September 19 coup were anti-democratic groups in the military and civilian elite, disgruntled business leaders, middle class reactionaries and neo-liberal intellectuals and politicians. The coup was also supported by the monarchy and the majority of the NGO movement. What all these groups had in common was contempt for the poor. For the neo-liberals, “too much democracy” gave “too much” power to the poor electorate and encouraged governments to “over-spend” on welfare. The intellectuals and NGO activists believed that Thailand was divided between the “enlightened middle-classes who understood democracy” and the “ignorant rural and urban poor” who were trapped in a “patron-client system.”

There was a belief that Thaksin cheated in elections, mainly by tricking people or buying the rural poor vote. This was a convenient justification for ignoring the wishes of 16 million people. There was no evidence for any serious electoral fraud which would have changed the clear majority that the Thai Rak Thai gained in many elections.

Thaksin has often been wrongly accused of being against the monarchy. In fact he is a royalist. He opposes people like myself who are republicans. His government promoted the King’s 60th anniversary celebrations and started the North Korean-style Yellow Shirt Mania that invoked the color of the king. But Thaksin lost out to the conservatives in his attempt to use the monarchy.

Thaksin is also accused of corruption. His sale of his family-held Shin Corp shares, without paying tax, was certainly moral corruption, but quite legal. The military and the courts have had three years to come up with evidence of his corruption, but have only managed to convict him on a technicality in one instance. Perhaps a thorough-going anti-corruption campaign might unearth widespread corruption among all the elites, especially the military and the conservatives and even those involved in the King’s vaunted Sufficiency Economy program?

Much damage has been done to Thai society by the conservative elites and the coup. They may manage to cling to their power and wealth for some time, but millions of pro-democracy Thais are no longer willing to compromise and accept anything less than real democracy. Many like myself would now like to see a republic and a wholesale dismissal of the top generals and judges. The king will die soon and his son is largely despised. But the elites, whose real power lies in the hands of the army, will still try desperately to promote and use the monarchy for their own ends. We can only hope that their dreams will crumble.

Written by Richard Wilson

September 18, 2009 at 9:57 am

Posted in Democracy

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Leicester Skeptics in the Pub

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All being well, my talk to Leicester Skeptics in the Pub this evening should be coming through live online from 7.30pm via this link:

This of course is in no way a substitute for the real-life, actual, 3-dimensional Leicester Skeptics experience, but if you can’t make it this could be a good second. If for any reason what comes out of your PC speakers is anything less than a virtuosi performance, this will doubtless be wholly due to interwebs interference and you should really have come along to the real thing!

Written by Richard Wilson

September 15, 2009 at 1:41 pm

He who pays the piper…

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From The Sunday Telegraph:

Medical evidence that helped Megrahi, 57, to be released was paid for by the Libyan government, which encouraged three doctors to say he had only three months to live.

The life expectancy of Megrahi was crucial because, under Scottish rules, prisoners can be freed on compassionate grounds only if they are considered to have this amount of time, or less, to live.

Megrahi is suffering from terminal prostate cancer. Two of the three doctors commissioned by the Libyans provided the required three-month estimates, while the third also indicated that the prisoner had a short time to live.

This contrasted with findings of doctors in June and July who had concluded that Megrahi had up to 10 months to live, which would have prevented his release.

Professor Karol Sikora, one of the examining doctors and the medical director of CancerPartnersUK in London, told The Sunday Telegraph: “The figure of three months was suggested as being helpful [by the Libyans].

“To start with I said it was impossible to do that [give a three-month life expectancy estimate] but, when I looked at it, it looked as though it could be done – you could actually say that.”

Written by Richard Wilson

September 6, 2009 at 8:10 am

Posted in Corruption

New film looks at unanswered questions around Western complicity in 1975 East Timor invasion

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Written by Richard Wilson

September 3, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Posted in Corruption, Peace or appeasement?

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