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Monday, May 31

Section 60


Section 60, "the saddest acre in America," is the plot in Arlington National Cemetery where more than 600 Americans who sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq are buried.

4,400 dead in the Iraq campaign. The New York Times reported on May 18 that the toll of American dead in Afghanistan passed 1,000 on that day, "after a suicide bomb in Kabul killed at least five United States service members. Having taken nearly seven years to reach the first 500 dead, the war killed the second 500 in fewer than two."

For Americans who died in wars that many in today's generation are too young to remember, it is right and necessary to mark a special day for memorializing them. For those who mourn the dead in today's war, there is no special day for remembering.


Pakistan court orders Facebook access restored; Bangladesh temporarily blocks Facebook (UPDATED 12:30 PM EDT)

UPDATE
The latest AP report is that the lifting of the ban on Facebook in Pakistan was not total and was lifted purportedly only after Facebook "officials" apologized. It's not clear at this point whether Facebook apologized. Either way, Pakistan's government surely realized that the ban on Facebook, YouTube, etc. adds to the wholly deserved image of Pakistan as a repressive, radical Islamist society -- an actuality the regime has tried to cover up on the world stage.
Pakistan lifts Facebook ban after page removed
By BABAR DOGAR (AP) – 3 hours ago

LAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan lifted a ban on Facebook on Monday after officials from the social networking site apologized for a page deemed offensive to Muslims and removed its contents, a top information technology official said. ...

"In response to our protest, Facebook has tendered their apology and informed us that all the sacrilegious material has been removed from the URL," said Najibullah Malik, secretary of Pakistan's information technology ministry, referring to the technical term for a Web page.

Facebook assured the Pakistani government that "nothing of this sort will happen in the future," Malik said.

Officials from the website could not immediately be reached for comment. They said earlier the contents of the "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" page did not violate Facebook's terms.

The page encouraged users to post images of the prophet to protest threats made by a radical Muslim group against the creators of the American TV series "South Park" for depicting Muhammad in a bear suit during an episode earlier this year.

Pakistan blocked Facebook on May 19 following a ruling by one of the country's highest courts. The Lahore High Court reversed its ruling Monday because of Facebook's response, paving the way for the government to restore access, Malik said.

The government will continue to block some Web pages that contain "sacrilegious material," but Malik declined to specify which ones.

The Facebook controversy sparked a handful of protests across Pakistan, many by student members of radical Islamic groups. Some of the protesters carried signs advocating holy war against the website for allowing the page.

Bangladesh also decided to block Facebook on Sunday but said it would restore access to the site if the offensive material was removed. ...

Anger over the Facebook controversy also prompted the Pakistani government to block access to YouTube briefly, saying there was growing sacrilegious content on the video sharing website. The government restored access to YouTube last week but said it would continue to block videos offensive to Muslims that are posted on the site.
********************
AFP – 1 hour ago:
LAHORE, Pakistan — A Pakistani court on Monday ordered authorities to restore access to social networking website Facebook, nearly two weeks after it was blocked nationwide in a row over blasphemy.

Justice Ejaz Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court issued the directive after ordering the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority on May 19 to block Facebook over "blasphemous" drawings of Prophet Mohammed that appeared on the website.

"Restore Facebook. We don't want to block access to information," Chaudhry told the court.
BBC May 30:
Bangladesh has blocked access to Facebook after satirical images of the prophet Muhammad and the country's leaders were uploaded, say reports.

One man has been arrested and charged with "spreading malice and insulting the country's leaders" with the images, an official told the AFP news agency.

Officials said the ban was temporary and access to the site would be restored once the images were removed.

It comes after Pakistan invoked a similar ban over "blasphemous content".

A spokesman for the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) told AFP Facebook had "hurt the religious sentiments of the country's majority Muslim population" by carrying "offensive images" of Mohammed.

"Some links in the site also contained obnoxious images of our leaders including the father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the leader of the opposition," said the commission's acting chair, Hasan Mahmud Delwar.

On Saturday, one man was arrested by the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Dhaka and charged with uploading the images.

"Facebook will be re-opened once we erase the pages that contain the obnoxious images," said Mr Delwar.

Pakistan blocked all access to Facebook - along with YouTube, Wikipedia and Flickr - last week after images of Muhammad started to appear online.

People were invited to submit their images of him in the run-up to "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" held by some users of Facebook on 20 May.

Most Muslims consider representations of the Prophet Muhammad to be blasphemous.

Thousands of people joined anti-Facebook protests in Bangladesh on Friday demanding the site be blocked over the contest.

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Friday, May 28

Naxal attack on Jnaneswari Express, Gulf Coast disaster: antiquated governments buckle under weight of 21st Century challenges

Thousands flee Athens wildfires, August 2009

Naxals slip through cracks of time: "The Indian Railway has effectively accelerated and increased the load on the system using 21st century technology while relying on an information process from the 19th."

Satellites trawl the heavens, dumping their catch of electronic signals into blindingly fast computer systems and it all ends up on a terminal on a desk in a government agency. From there --

System Overload

September 1, 2005 in wake of Hurricane Katrina: On-air exchange between CNN TV journalist Anderson Cooper and Louisiana State Senator Mary Landrieu:

COOPER: Senator, appreciate you joining us tonight. Does the federal government bear responsibility for what is happening now? Should they apologize for what is happening now?

LANDRIEU: Anderson, there will be plenty of time to discuss all of those issues, about why, and how, and what, and if. But, Anderson, as you understand, and all of the producers and directors of CNN, and the news networks, this situation is very serious and it's going to demand all of our full attention through the hours, through the nights, through the days.

Let me just say a few things. Thank President Clinton and former President Bush for their strong statements of support and comfort today. I thank all the leaders that are coming to Louisiana, and Mississippi, and Alabama to our help and rescue.

We are grateful for the military assets that are being brought to bear. I want to thank Senator First and Senator Reid for their extraordinary efforts.

Anderson, tonight, I don't know if you've heard -- maybe you all have announced it -- but Congress is going to an unprecedented session to pass a $10 billion supplemental bill tonight to keep FEMA and the Red Cross up and operating.

COOPER: Excuse me, Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that, because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.

And when they hear politicians -- you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there's not enough facilities to take her up. ...
System Failure

May 26, 2010:
Speaking at a California solar panel factory, President Obama used the [BP] oil spill to urge comprehensive energy reform. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, is urging the government to cut "cozy" ties between the oil industry and regulators. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said President Obama is considering adjustments to his plan to open exploration wells for drilling in the Arctic. ...
May 26, 2010:

Anderson Cooper, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, New Orleans resident and Democratic strategist James Carville are in a motorboat bobbling in fudge-brown oil sludge in a Louisiana coastal marsh in Plaquemines -- such marshes a last line of defense to slow the fury of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes bent on laying waste to coastal cities.

The sludge is already killing the marsh vegetation but it's the dead silence that rattles the boating party most. Marshes teem with the sounds of wildlife and insects. Now, nothing; not the call of a bird, not even the drone of a mosquito. Dead, all dead, or departed.

Jindal and Nungesser had turned to CNN for help after sending increasingly desperate messages all week to every bureaucracy they could think of; they'd been begging for simple things -- equipment, manpower -- that any modern government should be able to provide. They'd gotten nothing in return.

They also got caught in a Catch-22: No, they couldn't erect sand berms to halt the oozing of the sludge into the marshes. They needed a permit for that and before they can get a permit, they were informed, a study had to be conducted to determine the environmental impact of the berms on the marshes.

"We're dying here," whispers Carville into the silent marsh. Then, his voice rising, his face twisted with fury, "We're dying here."

March 26, 2010:
Obama, under pressure, plans a rare news conference. ... Republicans won't deal with him. Blame for the historic Gulf Coast oil spill is heading his way. The left is mad at him, and so is the right. ...
May 28, 2010
(Delhi) Indian train crash: Leaders under pressure over Maoist attack India's leaders were under pressure tonight to clarify their strategy to tackle extremist leftwing violence after at least 80 people died and 200 were injured when suspected Maoist rebels derailed a passenger train in West Bengal state.

Even as rescuers were working desperately to free hundreds of passengers from the twisted wreckage of the [Jnaneswari] Express near Sardiha, 100 miles south-west of Kolkata, in the early hours of this morning, the Congress party-led administration of Manmohan Singh was under attack for being unable to stop a string of increasingly violent attacks.

"They are looking quite helpless. There's a sense of administrative collapse," said MJ Akbar, the influential editor of the Sunday Guardian. ...
May 28, 2010: Shlok Vaidya analyzes the latest Naxal attack:
... In the case of the Jnaneswari Express, Naxals removed about 50 feet of pandrol clips (designed to hold the track down ... ) to achieve instability at high speeds, and then removed a foot-long section of track in order to generate a catastrophic event. This is 51 feet of affected track, on a route spanning hundreds of miles.

The Jnaneswari fishtailed but was able to come to a stop with only a few derailed cars, though they came to rest on opposing tracks. However, the system immediately cascaded, as a high speed goods train was approaching from the other side, did not have time to stop and was not informed of the original incident. It hit the cars from the Jnaneswari that lay in its path.
Then he analyzes the cascading system failure:
Every day, the Indian Railways sends inspection engines to navigate its network, looking for any at-risk or failing infrastructure or problems. These engines move either when the passenger or good trains aren’t scheduled or accompany them (more and more likely given how tightly coupled the system is) and radio back if there are any problems. This is what occurred in the case of the Jnaneswari Express.

"An inspection engine is believed to have piloted the Ranchi-Hatia Express down the same track at 12.37pm. No damage was reported then."

The derailment occurred at 1:15 am, a full 12 hours after the last check.

REAL TIME INFORMATION

Given how just in time this transportation system is now, with up-to-the-minute computer controlled management of train dispatch and scheduling, it cannot operate without a real-time view of its environment. This disconnect directly contributed to the huge body count in this particular instance (knowing that the Jnaneswari was off the tracks could have halted the goods train – there was a gap of a full five minutes). For example, this hole can be filled through the use of aerial surveillance (faster) or sensors (more real-time and distributed).

As it stands, the Indian Railway has effectively accelerated and increased the load on the system using 21st century technology while relying on an information process from the 19th.
Visualize an organization chart. You're looking at shorthand for government administration since the rise of civilization and its cities. Nothing has changed fundamentally since then: the king sits at the top, his ministers ranged underneath, and their underlings beneath them, and the information cascades downward and across then flows downward again, and across and downward again.

The modern state imitates that ancient government structure. Now let's see where we are today, after a month that has seen organized violence bring three capital cities -- Athens, Bangkok, Kingston -- to a virtual standstill; after a winter and spring in which scores of major cities and hundreds of regions across the globe suffered from 'Black Swan' events -- unexpected extreme weather/seismic events, several of which were historic.

May 28, 2010:
(BBC) [...] West Midnapore district, where the [Jnaneswari] incident happened, is the hotbed of Maoist rebellion in West Bengal, one of the states where the rebels have a presence.

Tribespeople dominate the district, especially the forested Junglemahal region bordering Jharkhand state. They feel ignored and deprived by the Communist government which has been ruling the state since 1977. Most live in abject poverty. The only visible signs of "development" I spotted during a trip to the area some years ago were cheap liquor shops.

Strong Support

Fed up with the state of affairs, Junglemahal's tribespeople even agitated for a separate state. When neighbouring Jharkhand was carved out as a separate state, their alienation grew and they were quick to welcome the Maoists, who wield most influence in areas which are poor and dominated by tribespeople.

The Lalgarh area in Junglemahal is the rebels' most formidable stronghold.

In February, they stormed a police camp in Lalgarh, killing 24 policemen.

Rebels love to describe Lalgarh as a "liberated zone" where the state has withered away - schools and medical centres have closed down because teachers and doctors are afraid to attend, and policemen are confined to the police stations fearing reprisals.

Friday's incident in West Midnapore demonstrates how the rebels are taking the battle to their enemies ever since the federal government launched an offensive in what is known as India's "red corridor" earlier this year.

This comprises 223 of India's 636 districts in 20 states which the government says are "Maoist affected", up from 55 districts in nine states six years ago.

Ninety of these affected districts, the government says, are experiencing "consistent violence."

The rebels have been carrying out attacks with impunity in recent months - two major attacks Dantewada in Chhattisgarh state left more than 100 people dead, including 75 paramilitary troops. ...

Following the twin Dantewada attacks, the government said it was reviewing its strategy for fighting the rebels, who have refused to respond to repeated government offers for talks.

Analysts say that the strategy of "clearing, holding and developing" rebel-affected areas evidently inspired by the US strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is not working.

'Visible retreat'

One reason, they say, is that the surge of security forces and resources on the ground are not sufficient enough to take on the rebels who are spread over a vast swathe of remote mineral-rich forest lands.

The government is now in a "visible retreat" after a spree of rebel attacks, says security analyst Ajai Sahni.

He believes that a lack of adequate forces, training and intelligence is leading to these "disasters".

"Unless local capacities for intelligence and operations are enormously augmented, this [offensive] can go nowhere, and lot of lives are going to be lost for no useful purpose," Mr Sahni says.

But the under-equipped local police and intelligence-gathering networks remain Indian security' s weakest link, and there no visible efforts to bolster them.

The government appears to be confused over how the rebels should be tackled - there are differences in the ruling Congress party itself on whether the state should strike hard against it's own people.

Recently federal home minister P Chidambaram requested wider powers to deal with the rebels, saying that he had been given a "limited mandate."

He said the chief ministers of some of the worst affected states have asked for air power to be used against the rebels - a measure that the government has refused to sanction.

Analysts believe that many states are not doing enough to take on the rebels, leading to a "centralisation" of the problem.

"The principal responsibility for dealing with the Maoists remain that of the states; the first responders, the local police stations, have to be strengthened and equipped to deal with the task on their own."

Till that happens, the rebels will be seen to have an upper hand in what promises to be long drawn out and bloody conflict, the like of which India has never seen.
Now overlay that situation on Bangkok and the Arizona border region, Mainland China, and thousands of situations in the USA and around the world where the central government's top-down relationship with states has been inadequate to address the problems of this era.

Is there another structure of government administration, one that wouldn't balkanize nations but which is better suited to the age of megapopulations and its technologies?

As the 20th Century started to draw to a close, an American I think of as a Yankee tinkering genius set off on foot from Boston, Massachusetts. He then walked to the other side of the country, to the city of San Diego in California state. He left Boston on June 6, 1978 and arrived in San Diego on December 24, 1978. As the crow flies the distance between the two cities is 2,582 miles (4,155 km).

His walked across deserts, over mountains; through forests, thriving cities, dying towns and vast tracts of farming and grazing lands. He made the journey to inspect his country, in the manner that the ancient world's wisest kings visited every region in their kingdoms. He studied how land was being used, the country's agricultural and industrial practices; he questioned the people everywhere he went about their work, their living conditions, and their aspirations.

From his his study a different form of American government administration began to form in his mind, one that viewed the relationship between the states and the federal government in a new way.

In honor of his journey I'll announce his name on June 6th and introduce you then to his ideas. For now, I'll load you with homework so you'll find the discussion easier to follow:

1) Black Swan author Nassim Taleb. (The interview is during the 12-1 AM hour of the Friday, May 21st Batchelor show on WABC-77 AM radio. The discussion is the last one on the podcast for that hour.)

You can also download the segment from the Batchelor Show at the 77-WABC radio archive page.

2) Read or re-read my February 17, 2009 essay, Localism, Faux Localism, and the Rise of the Red Tories and read Phillip Blond's Red Tories essay, which I link to in the post. Also read the February 19 update to my Red Tories post and the link to the Hyscience article there.

3) Read the following excerpts I provide to a Christian Science Monitor report on the alliance that formed between David Cameron and Nick Clegg and keep in mind, or realize, that Phillip Blond has been called Cameron's "philosopher king."

4) Finally, return to the Batchelor-Taleb interview and take special note of the part about the importance of species density and how this applies to offsetting globalization's tendency to destroy small, diverse businesses.
British coalition of Cameron and Clegg may survive on their new localism
by the Christian Science Monitor Editorial Board
May 19, 2010

An unexpected revolution in governance has begun in Britain, like a shot heard round the world. It is one that former colonials in America might want to track, perhaps even follow.

The revolution comes out of the surprising coalition between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats after the country’s inconclusive May 6 election.

While perhaps a shaky alliance, the odd-fellow team of Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg could easily survive for some time if only for one reason: Both men have a strong desire to decentralize power away from London (for Americans, substitute “Washington”) and toward local government and community groups.

Mr. Clegg, the Lib Dem, says Britain has the most centralized government in Europe (bar Malta), and he wants a “power revolution” that would be the biggest shake-up in the country’s democracy in 178 years. It would, he claims, “transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state.”

For his part, Mr. Cameron, a post-Thatcher Tory, ran on the promise of a “big society” whose core idea is that government should be a catalyst for revitalizing civic groups, entrepreneurs, community volunteers, and local officials to carry more of the burden that central bureaucracies do now.

Their conjoined ideas aren’t anti-government, as old Tories were, or the Reaganesque, government-is-the-problem Republicans. Rather they offer a different form of government, one that is closer to the people, less intrusive, and more reliant on private efforts.

This could easily be dismissed as a nostalgic attempt to recreate an idealized version of 19th-century life, when charities and churches dealt with society’s woes. Cameron’s big-society campaign pitch was, in fact, too vague for voters to give Conservatives enough seats in Parliament for a firm majority.

In the United States, too, President George H.W. Bush talked of a society powered by “a thousands points of light,” a concept that quickly went dark. And his son’s “compassionate conservatism” ended up mainly with two massive federal programs, the No Child Left Behind Act and an expensive drug program for Medicare.

Any top-down devolution of power can be difficult – simply because it is top down. But what Cameron and Clegg can build on are current trends toward localism, such as movements to use local food, local renewable energy such as wind, and even in a few places in the US, local currencies. And the United Kingdom has recently shed much government power to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

But there is one compelling reason for Britain to throw more responsibility to the locals: The central government’s finances are on the rocks. It has little ability to spend more. A new austerity is needed, as in much of Europe (especially Greece). The welfare state needs help, and it can’t rely on more national taxes.

Britain’s debt is 12 percent of its GDP, and by the end of the year, could be the largest in Europe. To lower that would mean a revolution in the delivery of social services, or rather, as Cameron Conservatives see it, a change in the way citizens see their role in society.

Cameron wants to find ways for adults to join neighborhood groups that provide services. He plans to introduce a “national citizen service” for 16-year-olds. People would have more say over their police and local government (similar, for instance, to charter schools in the US). Such steps would develop local interdependence, more private giving, and social entrepreneurship.

This new coalition sees Britain’s fundamental problem as social: the atomization of society with many individuals lonely, and hungry for connections. In the past 40 years, the number of people living alone has nearly doubled. Like the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, many die alone.

This revolution-in-progress might even make sense to a former community organizer from Chicago.

But the Cameron-Clegg duo first needs to put more meat on the bones of their ideas.

Britain, which calls itself the cradle of democracy, may be ready for this experiment in a different kind of democracy.

The Yanks should be watching.

Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Refuses to Enforce Section 13


Marc Lemire's challenge to the constitutionality of Section 13 of Canada's Human Rights Act has taken quite a turn. Edward Lustig, the presiding Member of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, adjourned a Section 13 case sine die pending Canada's Supreme Court ruling on Marc's case.

Unless the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) somehow gets around Lustig's decision, this seems to mean all pending Tribunal decisions on Section 13 cases are suspended until Marc's case is settled, which could take years.

For more information on Lustig's decision and an introduction to Section 13 see Marc's March 28 post at his blog. And see Mark Steyn's September 2009 A Landmark Victory for a summary of a Tribunal decision on Marc's Section 13 case, which allowed his constitutional challenge to Section 13 to proceed.

While pondering how much Marc has accomplished during his seven-year battle with the CHRC I found myself recalling something Mark Steyn observed about him earlier this year:
Different people react to "human rights" torture in different ways: Ezra Levant and I are oppositional by nature and by profession. You take a swing at us, we'll swing back. Go ahead, "human rights" punks, make our day. So is Marc Lemire, whose bloody-minded refusal to sit there and take it wound up inflicting more damage on the racket than anything else.
Yes. However, Marc is fighting much worse than a racket. On paper a democratic society is one governed by laws, not men. But what happens when the law supports an extrajudicial process in which truth is no defense? That is what happened in Canada with the enactment of the 1977 Human Rights Act, although it took years for the implications to manifest. A harbinger was a minor incident that played out unnoticed at the time by all but a handful of Canadians:
There might have been a pianist playing at Toronto's super-fashionable Courtyard Café that July 3 in the summer of 1978. Although probably not, given it was lunchtime. Still, those were more melodious times. Schools and airports had no grating security procedures. Canada's thought police were nascent and complaints to them could be smoothed out over a plate of smoked salmon.

I was sharing my salmon with the rabbi who had married me a few years earlier and had now been sent by his fellow commissioners on the Ontario Human Rights Commission to informally straighten me out.

The Manitoba and the Ontario human rights commissions had complained about an article I had written for Maclean's on the "British disease." The U.K. was lurching from crisis to crisis with strikes that left bodies unburied and bread unbaked. I had used the word "Huns" to explain British apathy as in "the Huns are no longer at the gate."

The word was clearly used in a historical context, but to no avail. In the bowels of Manitoba, a lobby group of professional grievance collectors found solace for my wounding word in Canada's up-to-date human rights legislation. I was, wie schrecklich, slagging off all German Canadians.

After a bout of correspondence I saw both [commissions] off but not before they had tried to get me censored, possibly fired, and all behind my back. Fortunately, then-editor of Maclean's Peter C. Newman felt I ought to be made aware of their complaints. ...[1]
As to where speech censorship in the name of protecting human rights leads, I think I explained that well enough recently with this example of Pakistan's blasphemy law in action:
In October 2000, Pakistani authorities charged Younus Shaikh, a physician, with blasphemy on account of remarks that students claimed he made during a lecture. The students alleged that, inter alia, Shaikh had said Prophet Mohammed’s parents were non-Muslims because they died before Islam existed. A judge ordered that Shaikh pay a fine of 100,000 rupees and that he be hanged. On 20 November 2003, a court retried the matter and acquitted Shaikh, who fled Pakistan for Europe soon thereafter.
All that stands between the hangman and you for speaking your mind are not laws but people who value freedom. If you don't understand that, by the time you comprehend the implications of Section 13 and Marc Lemire's battle with the CHRC, you will.

1) I feel like suing them myself but that's not the point; Barbara Amiel, Maclean's, January 9, 2008

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Wednesday, May 26

Pakistan: No such thing as a fruitarian tiger


May 26, 2010:
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, had agreed to resume peace talks on the sidelines of the SAARC summit last month.

But the day the Prime Minister's Office revealed its plans to send 20 kilos of handpicked Alphonso mangoes to the Pakistani prime minister, Pakistan's Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Lahore high court to release Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. India was left merely expressing its disappointment over the decision to let the mastermind of the Mumbai [massacre] go scot free.
May 25, 2010:
Outages of up to 18 hours a day [in Pakistan] are threatening the government's credibility at a time when the U.S. is pressing it to step up its fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Mindful that a bad economy could mean more recruits to the militant cause, Washington has pledged $1 billion to improve the power supply, including upgrading thermal and hydropower plants as well as modernizing distribution. [...]
Pundita's advice to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

* Washington portrays its relationship with Pakistan as one of convenience in the course of fighting the war on terror. Yet actions since the inception of the war, and the history of U.S. - Pakistan relations, tell a different story.

Recognize that the United States government, with the ongoing support of the American people, has stayed true to form across decades. This means the USA will continue to enable Pakistan-engineered terrorism in India, in Pakistan, around the world -- and even in the United States.

* Please don't continue to support such behavior by treating the United States as a honorable actor. Don't accept any more defense deals Washington offers. Don't engage in behavior of any kind that would signal to Washington that your government is fine with the U.S. enabling Pakistani terrorism.

* Recognize that the U.S.- Pakistan - Saudi alliance has been very destructive to many countries, including India, Afghanistan -- and the American people.

* India is far better distancing itself from the United States and 'turning East,' which would mean an end to India's attempts to stay 'nonaligned.' Recognize that the United States still does not allow non-alignment; it continues to follow the Cold War view that automatically considers a nonaligned state an enemy.

* So why continue to hope that the USA will change? Better to cement relations with Russia, Iran, and China and extend the offer to Israel to be a broker in their relations with Iran -- if the Israelis ever realize that being part a U.S.-Saudi - Pakistan alliance is doing their country no good.

It's my belief that Iran's real issues are with the USA and Saudi Arabia, not Israel, and that if Israel distances itself from the U.S - Saudi relationship, rapprochement between Israel and Iran will quickly follow.

(I realize that would be a controversial view if considered in U.S. foreign policy circles, which to my knowledge hasn't been done.)

* As for Afghanistan, I'd apologize to Hamid Karzai for allowing Obama to pressure you into supporting Abdullah for Afghanistan's presidency. Then I'd tell Karzai that India is willing to back his government to the hilt. In this way he wouldn't have to force himself into deals with Pakistan's military and the Taliban -- deals he knows would be broken.

* Many Americans are working to restore honor to their government but this will be a long process and might not be successful. For this reason I think it's very important for the entire south Asian region that India distance itself as much as possible from the United States in this era -- and particularly during the Obama presidency. Mr Obama's foreign policy is dictated by the ups and downs in his poll numbers and the U.S. - Pakistan - Saudi alliance.

* Please understand that as an American it would have saddened me a year ago to have given this advice. I strongly supported improved relations between India and the USA. But I am also a strong supporter of the war on terrorism. Given U.S. actions since late last year, it is clear that my country is helping terrorists more than it's warring against them; at the least, American actions are attempting to empty the ocean with a sieve.

* The last time the U.S. government left the Afghani people at the mercy of Pakistan's government it committed mass murder in the country. That the United States would do the same thing again is to me a crime against humanity.

* If India takes a strong stand against U.S. pressure to cede to Pakistan, it might be a wake-up call to many Americans that great evil is rising from America's continued pandering to something that doesn't exist: a vegetarian tiger. By the way tigers don't like fruit, either, sir.

Thursday, May 20

This is Pakistan: Facebook, YouTube bans and rule by fear (UPDATED)


(See end of post for updated information on Pakistan's internet crackdown.) This morning's Washington Post reports on the government's banning of Facebook:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- An Internet clampdown in Pakistan widened Thursday as the government blocked access to the YouTube Web site, citing its "growing sacrilegious content." The move came one day after the civilian government ordered Internet service providers to restrict access to the Facebook social networking site, which drew fire in Pakistan over a page encouraging people to post caricatures Thursday of the Prophet Muhammad. That order followed a court injunction against the site, which agreed Wednesday with a petition by an Islamic lawyers' group that the page violated Islamic laws banning the prophet's image. [...]
The Post report tactfully avoids mentioning the penalty in Pakistan for caricaturing or otherwise insulting the Prophet, which is death.

Pakistan has the most stringent blasphemy law of any nation, and the death penalty extends to even an inadvertent or 'perceived' insult to the Prophet. Although countless vigilante-style executions have occurred, the penalty has never been carried out within the judicial system. Of course; if the death penalty was carried out the usefulness of the law, as a weapon of fear, would have collapsed under the weight of protests abroad and rebellion inside the country.

That is why all diplomacy initiatives by the United States and other national governments to pressure Pakistan's government into watering down the law have so far failed. Imposing the death penalty for blaspheming Mohammad, even inadvertently, has been an effective means of sustaining a climate of fear in the country. That's helped the military and the elite control the rest of the population.

A couple examples, drawn from Wikipedia's article on Pakistan's anti-blasphemy law, are ample indication of how the law creates a climate of fear:
In October 2000, Pakistani authorities charged Younus Shaikh, a physician, with blasphemy on account of remarks that students claimed he made during a lecture. The students alleged that, inter alia, Shaikh had said Prophet Mohammed’s parents were non-Muslims because they died before Islam existed. A judge ordered that Shaikh pay a fine of 100,000 rupees, and that he be hanged. On 20 November 2003, a court retried the matter and acquitted Shaikh, who fled Pakistan for Europe soon thereafter. ...

On 4 August 2009, a Muslim mob attacked a factory-owner by the name of Najeebullah and others at Sheikhupura in the Punjab. The mob killed Najeebullah and two others, and set fire to the factory. The mob complained that Najeebullah had placed an outdated calendar, which contained verses from the Quran, on a table. For that offense, a worker accused Najeebullah of blasphemy. The workers may have been in a dispute with Najeebullah over wages.
The tally Wikipedia cites for the number of blasphemy charges officially brought between 1988 and 2005 -- 647 -- does not convey the true situation. Official charges don't have to be brought to warp the society.

If you read through enough of the blasphemy cases, it's clear the accusations relating to the law are often a pretext for anything from grudge-settling to wage disputes to land grabs. Invoking the law is a sure-fire way to bring the threat of social ostracism, loss of employment, financial ruin, or even worse on any Pakistani who stands accused. So, just the threat of being publicly accused of blasphemy against the Prophet is enough to create a kind of reign of terror.

Not content with terrorizing citizens in their own country Pakistan's regime wants the entire world to live in fear. Since 1999 Pakistan has led the charge at the United Nations to make blasphemy an international crime.

Insulting the Prophet isn't the only way to run afoul of Pakistan's blasphemy law:
The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code were amended, through ordinances in 1980, 1982 and 1986 to declare anything implying disrespect to Muhammad, Ahle Bait (family of the prophet), Sahaba (companions of the prophet) and Sha'ar-i-Islam (Islamic symbols), a cognizable offence. ...

* Disrespecting the Holy Quran is punishable by life imprisonment.

* Disrespecting the family of the Prophet or the Companions of the Prophet is punishable by prison up to three years, or a fine, or both.

* Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs bring up to 10 years imprisonment, or fine, or both. ...
The catch is that the climate of fear combined with rigid enforcement of the caste system, a public education system that instills paranoia and hate, a police state with eyes and ears everywhere, and the preservation of an ancient system of feudalism that no longer exists anywhere but in Pakistan has created a nation of people whose mindset is very close to sociopathy.

Pakistan's elite represent a tradition of rulers who were treated by their subjects as living deities; when that was coupled with the most rigid form of caste consciousness it produced a way of thinking that Americans would consider crazy -- if they understood it. Because the thinking is unique in the modern world it is very hard to describe in a few words, in a way that can be understood by moderns.

And the eggshell-thin class of liberal minded, more 'secularized' Pakistanis who place a high value on human rights, which is the face Pakistan's government likes to project to the world, makes the society even harder to comprehend from the outside.

How do those liberal-minded Pakistanis live in such a society? How do women who routinely get the shit beat out of them by their husbands stay in the marriage and put on a happy face for the world? In both cases, through a schizoid dissociation from reality.

That's why there is such a large Pakistani diaspora. This has only made things worse in Pakistan because many of the best and the brightest -- those the country most needs -- have fled.

So when I wrote in an earlier post that Pakistan was the most toxic society on earth I wasn't exaggerating or being mean. If I'd wanted to be mean I would have written that Pakistan is the true America, in the manner of Dorian Gray's portrait revealing the true man.

But at the very least, the American taxpayer has unwittingly helped prop up a way of life that reflects the worst of the modern and ancient worlds. I don't want to hear about the role the British and the Saudis have played in this. The British couldn't afford to keep Pakistan as a client state, and the Saudis came late to the party.

Across decades, from the inception of Pakistan as a nation, the U.S. government has knowingly helped Pakistan's regimes suppress human rights and real democracy in the country, carry out terrorism against India, inflict democide on their own people (East Pakistanis) and Afghanis. To top if off, the U.S. government deliberately turned a blind eye to Pakistan's nuclear weapons proliferation and did so for decades.

Yet this same American government has had the gall to lecture other nations about human rights and democracy. And the stupidity to wonder how many more men like Faisal Shahzad are in Pakistan.
****************
UPDATE 3:15 PM EDT
Excerpts from Bloomberg report:
Pakistan's government has blocked 450 Web links as the government widened a crackdown on Internet material it deems blasphemous.

The sites and links were blocked because of the increasing level of sacrilegious and derogatory material, the Islamabad- based Pakistan Telecommunication Authority said in a statement today. The regulator, which shut access to Facebook Inc.’s website yesterday, may block other links with blasphemous content, Khurram Mehran, a spokesman, said.
[...]
Pakistan said that Facebook and YouTube violated a resolution endorsed by the United Nations.

“The attitude of administrators at Facebook and YouTube was in contravention to the WSIS Resolutions and their own policies advertised on the Web for general public,” Mehran said in the statement, referring to the World Summit on the Information Society endorsed by the United Nations. “PTA would welcome the concerned authorities of Facebook and YouTube to contact the PTA for resolving the issue.”

Blackberry Ban

The regulator has also blocked Internet browsers on Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry phones, Mehran said today.
[...]
Pakistan needs an effective plan to prevent anti-Islam elements “hurting the sentiments of Muslims,” state-run Associated Press of Pakistan cited Religious Affairs Minister Saeed Kazmi as saying in Islamabad. Kazmi called on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to organize a meeting of Muslim countries and create a united policy for dealing with anti-Islamic moves, APP reported.

The telecommunications regulator blocked Facebook after the Lahore High Court imposed a ban and the Ministry of Information Technology instructed it, according to Mehran.

Political Parties

The court petition to bar Facebook was filed by a lawyer representing the Jamaat-e-Islaami, the party’s spokesman Sarfaraz Ahmed said in an interview today.
[...]
Today’s shutdown is within the Constitution of Pakistan and is an extension of orders from the High Court of Pakistan and the government’s directions, Mehran said. The regulator has set up a telephone number for callers to notify it regarding websites with objectionable material, according to the statement.
[...]
Pakistan’s Internet traffic has fallen 25 percent since [Facebook and YouTube] websites were blocked, CNBC Pakistan reported. It didn’t cite a source for the data.

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Troops restore order in Bangkok but Thailand's peace fragile

"We can immediately fix the roads but we do not know how long it will take to fix the wounded hearts and minds of the people."
-- Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra

Reuters report Thursday May 20, 8:11 AM EDT (7:11 PM Bangkok)
Uneasy peace in Thailand, uncertainties lie ahead

* Curfew extended for 3 days

* Unrest could cost Thai economy $3 billion ...

By Jason Szep and Ambika Ahuja

BANGKOK, May 20 (Reuters) - Thai authorities restored order over most of Bangkok on Thursday but the peace looked fragile, a day after rioting and fires that veered towards anarchy as troops took control of a camp occupied by anti-government protesters.

Thousands of the mostly rural and urban poor "red shirt" protesters had deserted their once-barricaded rally site in central Bangkok, but the tough crackdown and bloodshed raised fears of deepening anger among Thailand's underclasses.

Modern Thailand has never seen such a protracted period of urban violence, deadly riots, clashes and widespread destruction, and has never teetered so close to full civil conflict.

"Thailand has become a nation deeply divided, and although talk of a civil war may still be premature, there is a high risk that civil unrest and political violence will not be contained," said Danny Richards, analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The crackdown that began before dawn on Wednesday morning killed 15 people and wounded nearly 100. About 1,500 protesters took refuge in a temple, where six bodies were found on Thursday. Hundreds who remained inside were coaxed out by police.

Dozens of buildings were torched, including many banks, the stock exchange and Southeast Asia's second-biggest department store. By morning, the worse was over. The protesters were gone.

Some unrest continued in the Din Daeng area, scene of intense fighting last weekend. Dozens of protesters burned tires and set a bank building ablaze. Troops fired warning shots. But compared to recent fighting, the area was remarkably tame.

Political analysts say the next step is up to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who some say will forever be tarnished by overseeing military operations in which 82 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since April 10.

Nearly 1,800 people have been wounded in the period as the government, backed by Thailand's royalist establishment, and the protesters with their support from the rural masses and ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, failed to find common ground.

"He is more than tarnished," Michael Montesano of Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies said of the British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit.

"All extenuating circumstances notwithstanding, he will always be recalled as the man whose miscalculated incursion led to a burning Bangkok."

Troops have now established control of Bangkok and the protest encampment occupied since April 3, but at great cost.

Checkpoints of armed troops form a 6 sq-km (2.3 sq-mile) cordon in Bangkok, a city of 15 million known for its raucous nightlife but now reduced to smouldering fires, scarred streets, and 9 p.m. night curfews.

"The question is: how long do troops have to be deployed on this level in the city? The anger is still simmering," said Tanet Charoengmuang, a political scientist at Chiang Mai University.

The red shirts want fresh elections, saying Abhisit lacks a popular mandate after coming to power in a controversial parliamentary vote in 2008 with tacit military support. Abhisit last week withdrew an offer of fresh elections.

Analysts say regardless of the outcome, the violence marked a turning point in a country where the richest 20 percent of the population earn about 55 percent of the income while the poorest fifth get 4 percent, according to the World Bank.

But protest leaders, now detained, called for calm.

"Democracy cannot be built on revenge and anger," Veera Musikapong, chairman of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, known as the red shirts, said in a televised statement while in custody, calling on protesters to go home.

RURAL UNREST

Thailand's unifying figure, revered 82-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has not publicly commented on the current bout of turmoil in the kingdom, after defusing previous crises during his 63 years on the throne -- including the last political riots in Bangkok -- on the same date 18 years ago.

The king has been in hospital since Sept. 19.

The unrest has hammered Thailand's lucrative tourism industry, which supports six percent of Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy and employs 15 percent of Thailand's workforce directly or indirectly. [ID:nSGE64J0F5]

A source at state planning agency National Economic and Social Development Board said the economic impact of nine weeks of political turmoil and rioting would easily cost $3 billion, or about one percentage point of gross domestic product.

A curfew in Bangkok and 23 provinces was extended for another three nights, raising questions about whether authorities feared more unrest in a country where the ranks of the military and the police are split along the same socio-economic fault lines dividing protesters from the government and its affluent backers.

The rioting spread to north and northeast provinces, a red-shirt stronghold and home to just over half of Thailand's 67 million people. But trouble spots were quiet on Thursday and protest leaders urged calm. [ID:nSGE64J0G8]

Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said about 13,000 people were still "actively waiting to riot and perpetrate illegal acts" in provinces under a state of emergency.

In Bangkok, fires at 39 sites still smouldered but most had been extinguished. Central World CPN.BK, Southeast Asia's second-biggest department store and a symbol of wealth, was destroyed. Many of its supporting steel beams had collapsed.

"WOUNDED HEARTS AND MINDS"

The protesters' tented encampment in the heart of Bangkok's commercial district -- an area lined with luxury hotels and shopping plazas -- was strewn with rubbish, clothing and the smell of refuse and human waste. Troops roamed the area and some were positioned on an overhead subway system.

There were no signs of clashes.

Groups of soldiers sat on a sidewalk near the twisted wreckage of trucks that had been packed with explosives and blown up at barricades overnight. They looked relaxed in contrast to the tension of recent days, smiling at journalists.

Ten journalists have been shot in six days of violence, including an Italian cameraman killed on Wednesday.

The surrender of key protest leaders on Wednesday and a seeming end for now to violence that has killed at least 53 people and wounded more than 400 in six days could put the focus back on early elections and a "reconciliation roadmap" the prime minister had proposed before the latest bout of violence.

"We can immediately fix the roads but we do not know how long it will take to fix the wounded hearts and minds of the people," Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra told local television.

(Additional reporting by Damir Sagolj, Nopporn Wong-Anan and Vithoon Amorn; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Wednesday, May 19

Thaksin issues warning to Thailand government as Red Shirt supporters set fires across Bangkok

CNN reported during their 5:00 PM EDT broadcast that Red Shirt supporters, ousted or fleeing from their camp in Bangkok by an army assualt this morning, "have set Bangkok on fire and are hurling grenades."

This is the first time I've heard about heavy use of grenades by the Red Shirts, but other news organizations are also reporting that the Red Shirts are setting fires. The government has announced that arsonists and looters caught in the act can be shot under the rules of military engagement. issued orders Reuters - Wed May 19, 11:28am)
... "Police and soliders were instructed to resolve the situation and use weapons to deter or prevent those (arson and looting) acts," Tharit Pengdit, director-general of the Department of Special Investigation, said in a televised address. ...
Reuters also has more on the phone call they received this morning from Thaksin Shinawatra -- and more on Thaksin. (I note that the following article describes him as a multi-muillionare; an earluier Reuters dispatch described him as a billionare, and Wikipedia describes him as a "multi-billionaire" and one of Thailand's richest people. Anyhow, he's rich.
Thailand's ex-PM Thaksin predicts guerrilla war

by Nopporn Wong-Anan
Reuters BANGKOK
Wed May 19, 2010 12:56pm EDT

[Summary] Exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on Wednesday that a military crackdown on protesters backing him could spawn mass discontent and lead to guerrilla warfare.

Thaksin, ousted in a bloodless 2006 military coup, is denounced by adversaries as Thailand's most corrupt politician. To his anti-government supporters, who set Bangkok ablaze on Wednesday, he is a savior.

Speaking from an undisclosed location, Thaksin said the crackdown on "red shirt" protesters, which killed six people and wounded 58, could degenerate into widespread violence.

"There is a theory saying a military crackdown can spread resentment and these resentful people will become guerrillas," Thaksin told Reuters as troops fought protesters in Bangkok, sparking violence in outer provinces.

"There are lots and lots of people across the country who are upset because they were prevented from joining the Bangkok rally."

His critics say Thaksin is a crony capitalist who plundered the economy and perverted democracy for the benefit of his family and friends while in power from 2001 until the 2006 coup.

But to many rural voters, he was the first leader to consider the needs of millions living beyond Bangkok's bright lights.

Thaksin, who scored two landslide poll wins, has been living abroad in self-exile since being removed.

But a two-month campaign by his supporters to oust the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, hoping to gain Thaksin a political amnesty and justice, culminated on Wednesday in the country's worst political violence in 18 years.

Rioting and fires swept Bangkok after troops stormed the protesters' encampment, forcing their leaders to surrender.

Protesters set ablaze at least 27 buildings, including the Thai stock exchange and Central World, Southeast Asia's second-biggest department store complex.

A night curfew was declared in Bangkok and 21 provinces.

THAKSIN'S GHOST

Thaksin, 60, has hovered over Thai politics since fleeing the country in 2008, accused of undermining the powerful monarchy and breaching conflict-of-interest laws. He was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison.

Government officials say the multimillionaire former telecommunications tycoon was funding the protests to the tune of about $1.5 million a day. Both Red Shirt leaders and Thaksin deny he funded the anti-government movement.

In his comments, Thaksin rejected any notion he was the stumbling block in failed talks between the government and protesters.

"I only gave them advice that they should make a collective decision as a group, not letting any individual leaders to make a decision by their own... I never discussed about my personal interests with them," Thaksin said.

Thaksin, a former policeman, is accused by critics of abusing his electoral mandate to systematically dismantle constitutional checks and balances while consolidating his own rule.

In 2005, he looked unassailable with a record majority in parliament based on the platform of cheap healthcare and handouts for rural voters that swept him to power four years earlier.

He formed the first elected government to serve a full term, after which it was re-elected. He was also the first leader in Thai history to form a one-party government.

But corruption scandals and alleged abuses of power eroded his popularity among Bangkok's middle classes. Simmering anger exploded in 2006 when his relatives sold off, tax-free, their $1.9 billion stake in Shin Corp, the telecoms empire he founded, to a Singapore state company.

Thaksin responded by calling an election three years early, which he duly won.

CONTROVERSIAL RISE

Born into a family of ethnic Chinese silk merchants in 1949 in the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thaksin became a policeman in 1973 before gaining a masters degree in criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University.

He is still popular among rank-and-file policemen, accused by government backers of doing too little to stop the protests.

In 1987, he established a computer dealership with his wife that started selling hardware to the police. The company evolved into Shin Corp, a telecoms conglomerate with interests ranging from mobile phones to satellites, the Internet and the media.

But a corruption probe dogged him in power until he convinced investigators he made an "honest mistake" in failing to declare millions of dollars of shares transferred to his domestic staff.

A 2003 war on drugs in which 2,500 people were killed boosted his image as a crime-buster, but sparked outrage from rights groups, who said he was riding roughshod over civil liberties.

In February, Thailand's top court seized $1.4 billion of his assets, saying it was acquired through abuse of power.

(Editing by Michael Perry and Ron Popeski)

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Obama and the silencing of dissent

Up north, Marc Lemire is still battling it out with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and their attempts to quash freedom of speech in Canada. The CHRC has been putting great energy into turning itself "into a quasi national security-type agency," charges Marc. In this way any internet postings deemed politically incorrect by the CHRC could be judged a threat to Canada's national security.

When I first got involved with the battles of Canada's free speechers, which was in January 2008, I knew little about the maze of authoritarian-minded cadres that had been laboring for decades under the radar of the American public's attention, nor of Obama's connection with them.

So while I knew that the battles of Canada's free speech advocates would eventually be played out in America I saw those as distant on the horizon. And I believed freedom of speech in America would be hard to dismantle because of the wording of the First Amendment.

Fast forward to today. There are growing concerns in the American news profession about Barack Obama's draconian tactics to control media coverage of his administration and policies:
Much of the criticism is off the record, both out of fear of retaliation and from worry about appearing whiny. But those views were voiced by a cross section of the television, newspaper and magazine journalists who cover the White House.
Unless you're aware of the concerns and the authoritarian approach of Obama and his administration it might be hard to read the following May 19 report from RBO, crossposted here, without thinking, It can't happen in America.

Aaron Klein, Jerusalem bureau chief for World Net Daily, reports from New York:

It was President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, who hired radical regulatory czar Cass Sunstein as a Harvard law professor.

Sunstein and Kagan have expressed views about freedom of speech that should be of concern.

In February 2008, Kagan, serving as dean of Havard Law School, announced the arrival to Havard of Sunstein, then a longtime University of Chicago scholar. Kagan called Sunstein “the preeminent legal scholar of our time.”

WND previously reported Sunstein drew up a "First Amendment New Deal" – a new "Fairness Doctrine" that would include the establishment of a panel of "nonpartisan experts" to ensure "diversity of view" on the airwaves.

WND also reported that in a recently released book, "On Rumors," Sunstein argued websites should be obliged to remove "false rumors" while libel laws should be altered to make it easier to sue for spreading such "rumors."

In the 2009 book, Sunstein cited as a primary example of "absurd" and "hateful" remarks, reports by "right-wing websites" alleging an association between President Obama and Weatherman terrorist William Ayers.

He also singled out radio talker Sean Hannity for "attacking" Obama regarding the president's "alleged associations."

Ayers became a name in the 2008 presidential campaign when it was disclosed he worked closely with Obama for years. Obama also was said to have launched his political career at a 1995 fundraiser in Ayers' apartment.

Meanwhile, in a lengthy academic paper, Sunstein, argued the U.S. government should ban "conspiracy theorizing," WND reported.

Among the beliefs Sunstein would ban is advocating that the theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud.

Sunstein also recommended the government send agents to infiltrate "extremists who supply conspiracy theories" to disrupt the efforts of the "extremists" to propagate their theories.

Just yesterday, Breitbart.com posted a video of Sunstein proposing that Congress hold hearings about mandates ensuring websites post links to a diversity of views on issues.

Meanwhile, when it comes to other First Amendment issues, Kagan shows strong beliefs for court intervention in speech, going so far as to assert free speech should be weighed against "societal costs."

She has advocated silencing some kinds of speech, stating, for example, speech that promotes "racial or gender inequality" could be "disappeared."

In her 1993 article "Regulation of Hate Speech and Pornography After R.A.V," for the University of Chicago Law Review, Kagan writes:

Also in a 1996 paper, "Private Speech, Public Purpose: The Role of Governmental Motive in First Amendment Doctrine," Kagan argued it may be proper to suppress speech because it is offensive to society or to the government.

The paper asserted First Amendment doctrine is comprised of "motives and … actions infested with them," and she goes so far as to claim, "First Amendment law is best understood and most readily explained as a kind of motive-hunting."

Kagan's name was also on a brief, United States v. Stevens, dug up by the Washington Examiner, stating: "Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs."

Kagan's academic writings are sparse – just nine articles, two of which are book reviews.

Her stand on free speech could become a hot button issue as the Senate confirmation hearings convene.

With research by Brenda J. Elliott

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Thailand crisis: Red Shirt Bangkok camp now under partial army control; protest leaders surrender after deadly clashes

Huh. Thaksin somehow managed to call Reuters today to issue a warning or veiled threat, depending on how you want to read it, about insurrection. Wouldn't say where he was calling from. See the following report.

Reuters
Thai protest leaders surrender after deadly clashes
Adrees Latif and Damir Sagolj
BANGKOK
Wed May 19, 2010 3:22am EDT

[Summary] Four senior Thai anti-government protest leaders surrendered to police on Wednesday after troops stormed their encampment, sparking clashes that killed at least four people, as violence rocked other areas of the city.

Using armored vehicles and firing semi-automatic weapons from an overpass, soldiers made an early morning advance on an area occupied for more than six weeks by thousands "red shirt" demonstrators in Bangkok's commercial heart.

As they moved close to the main protest site, top protest leaders offered to surrender on the main stage as supporters urged them to fight on, many screaming and crying as gun fire rang out nearby.

Moments later, live television showed the four in police custody, urging supporters to go home.

The army spokesman said in a television broadcast the protest site was under army control and the military had halted operations.

As the leaders were surrendering, three grenades exploded outside the main protest site, badly wounding two soldiers and a foreign journalist, a Reuters witness said. Protesters were also burning tires in other areas of the city.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the military had successfully gained control of the Lumpini Park area south of the protest site.

Unrest was spreading to other areas of Thailand. Protesters also stormed a town hall complex in the northeastern city of Udon Thani, setting a building ablaze.

Three journalists were among 50 people wounded and one Western journalist, identified as an Italian was killed, a hospital said.

Troops and armored vehicles broke through three-meter-high barricades of tires and bamboo in an operation to squeeze thousands of anti-government protesters from their fortified camp in central Bangkok.

Troops fired tear gas and automatic rifles at the red-shirted protesters but halted the advance before reaching a stage where an estimated 3,000 demonstrators were rallying.

Two bodies were found on Ratchadamri Road, which leads to the main protest site after troops followed the army vehicle into the encampment, a Reuters witness said. They appeared to have been shot. The "red shirts" fired back, witnesses said.

BLACK SMOKE

Protesters ignited walls of tires as the troops arrived, causing thick black smoke to billow high over skyscrapers and hiding thousands of demonstrators who have occupied the heart of Bangkok's commercial district for more than six weeks.

Protesters have already taken over intersections at two other places in the capital of 15 million people, one of the world's more popular urban tourist destinations.

The mostly rural and urban poor protestors broadly support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a graft-convicted populist billionaire ousted in a 2006 coup and living in self-imposed exile to avoid jail.

Thaksin raised the specter of insurrection in a telephone interview with Reuters on Wednesday. "There is a theory saying a military crackdown can spread resentment and these resentful people will become guerrillas," he said, but declined to say where he was speaking from.

He denied an accusation by a top aide of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that he was the stumbling block for failed talks between the government and the "red shirt" leaders.

The military offensive came a day after the collapse of a proposal for talks aimed at ending five days of chaotic street fighting that descended into urban warfare that killed 39 people and wounded more than 300.

Two buildings were on fire on the periphery of the protest encampment, a bank and a government building.

The red shirts accuse the British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit of lacking a popular mandate after coming to power in a controversial parliamentary vote in 2008 with tacit backing from the military. They have demanded immediate elections.

Troops over the past few days had thrown a cordon around the protest site, a "tent city" at the Rachaprasong intersection, paralyzing the heart of Bangkok. Hundreds of women and children have taken refuge in a temple inside the protest area.

Protesters have stockpiled food, water, and supplies in the encampment since Thursday when the assassination of a major-general allied to the red shirts, and an army operation to pressure them, sparked the latest wave of violence that has killed 68 people and wounded more than 1,700 since the demonstrations began in mid-March.

(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan, Michael Perry and Ambika Ahuja; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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Thailand: Reuters live blogging the crisis

Here is the link to the Reuters live blogging page.

Some Pundita posts on the crisis during past two days. (Scroll down webpage for earlier posts on the crisis).

May 19
Thailand army breaks through Red Shirt barricades (features Reuters 12:12 AM EDT report)
http://tinyurl.com/2dgs7w6

May 19
Finally, a glimmer of truth about Thailand mess emerges. Implications for Pakistan, Mexico, Iran. CIA please take notes.
http://tinyurl.com/2dxgen4

May 18
Thailand - Two great reports show crisis there in new light (Thai protests expose military rifts, incompetence)
http://tinyurl.com/24wzusm

May 18 post
Thailand crisis rising economic toll (Quotes Wall Street Journal article)
http://tinyurl.com/239aflc

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Finally, a glimmer of truth about Thailand mess. Implications for Pakistan and Mexico -- and Iran. CIA, please take notes.

UPDATE
Thai army storms Red Shirt Bangkok camp -3:22 AM Reuters report.
******************
Here's an entry from the Reuters live blogging page, datelined 3:45 AM Bangkok time, by Randall Maxwell (emphasis mine):
I worked for a well known news organization for years. I have owned property in Bangkok for 20 years. Let's get some facts out. The Military is in BUSINESS. They own banks, rubber plantations, rice plantations, hotels etc. They are partners with the business elite.

Unlike the USA military, the Thai military is not 100% taxpayer funded. It partially funds itself. It has been a force in Thailand for over 6,000 years. In the past, efforts by Thailand's military to significantly expand its business ventures have met stiff resistance, especially from [former] Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin then attempted to fragment the military and started to woo factions of the Military over to himself. He was trying to create a faction of the military 100% loyal to HIM PERSONALLY. The Generals decided to COUP his ass for stopping their business expansions and trying to divide the Military.

Thaksin wooed the rural poor knowing full well it would cement his power due to sheer numbers. Does he care about the Red Shirts? Not a chance. He's funding this protest in order to hopefully create a government more sympathetic to HIM. He wants the $1.4 BILLION he stole while in power released.

The government offered elections in November of this year!!! [1] Thaksin does NOT want that. It is not soon enough. He needs a new election before the Military Leader shake-up in September. As is the case, the wealthy Generals rise to the top and cement partnerships with the business elite running Thailand now. Thaksin will have no chance after September. The military sees no advantage in a Thaksin Red Shirt regime. It is bad for their businesses. In this case, democracy has nothing to do with this protest. This is a power play at the highest level with the "red shirts" as pawns.
by Randall Maxwell at 5/19/2010 3:44:35 AM 11:44 PM
I have so much to say about the news that Thailand's military partially funds itself that I don't know where to begin. Maybe with my March 1, 2005 post titled, Paw, a Revenuer's at the door. "Quick Abdullah, put on your tribal headdress!", in which I did much ranting and explaining about the measly tax base in a lot of 'developing' countries, and the implications.

Or maybe I should start by digging up some of my old posts on Mexico, in which I ranted about President Vicente Fox's persistent failure to collect taxes from the elite that put him in power. That was a point Andrés Manuel López Obrador -- the man who narrowly lost to Felipe Calderón in Mexico's last presidential election -- harped on.

When President George Bush advised President Fox that he should really think about raising taxes just a tad, López Obrador said it wasn't necessary to raise taxes: just collect taxes from the rich. For that, Washington labeled López Obrador a deranged left-wing radical.

Then perhaps I should find a recent comment from one of my readers discussing the fact that Pakistan's military owns many of Pakistan's businesses. I think that would also be true for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power.

So the question is how much the tax base in those countries supports the militaries; if the answer is "Not so much," there's no mystery about why those militaries are so terribly corrupt and why they muscle into the nation's business sector.

1) Pundita note: the Red Shirts waffled about the offer, then made at least one unreasonable counter-demand, causing the government to rescind the offer.

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Bangkok Crisis: Thai army breaks through Red Shirt camp barricades; Reuters live blogging the crisis

Also see my latest post on Thailand: Finally, a glimmer of truth about Thailand mess. Implications for Pakistan and Mexico -- and Iran. CIA, please take notes.
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Here's the link for the live blogging:
http://live.reuters.com/Event/Bangkok_protests

Reuters Wednesday May 19, 12:13am EDT reporting from Bangkok Ambika Ahuja and Damir Sagolj:
Thai troops and armored vehicles broke through barricades of tires and bamboo on Wednesday in an operation to squeeze thousands of anti-government protesters from their fortified camp in central Bangkok, witnesses said.

Troops fired tear gas and automatic rifles at the red-shirted protesters, as an armored vehicle broke through a barricaded intersection but stopped before closing in on an area where an estimated 3,000 demonstrators were rallying.

Two bodies were found on Ratchadamri Road, which leads to the main protest site after troops followed the army vehicle into the encampment, a Reuters witness said. They appeared to have been shot.

The "red shirts" fired back, witnesses said, and at least eight people were wounded, a hospital said. Some troops were seen firing from an overpass as army officials blocked journalists from entering the area.

Protesters ignited walls of tires as the troops arrived, causing thick black smoke to billow high over skyscrapers and camouflaging thousands of demonstrators who have occupied the heart of Bangkok's commercial district for more than six weeks.

Troops earlier used bullhorns and loudspeakers to urge protesters and civilians to leave, as military helicopters circled overhead.

"Please leave the site immediately. Officials are about to conduct an operation," a soldier said over a loudspeaker.
more than six weeks.

It was unclear whether the military presence was the start of the crackdown or the beginning of a long process to raise pressure on the protesters and flush out women, children and others from a sprawling encampment where explosives, guns and grenades are thought to be stashed.

ARMOURED VEHICLES

At least two dozen armored personnel carriers approached the encampment.

"We're asking everybody to be ready for a crackdown because armored personnel carriers are beginning to move in (to the area)," said Nattawut Saikua, a protest leader.

Some troops in the business district were as close as 200 meters (650 ft) from the protesters' three-meter (10-foot) high barricade made of tires, bamboo poles, and concrete topped with razor wire, a Reuters photographer said. Pick-up trucks and buses carrying soldiers also arrived in the area.

About 3,000 of the mostly rural and urban poor protestors, who broadly supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a 2006 coup, remain in the encampment in Bangkok's high-end shopping, hotel and diplomatic district.

"We have received reports that they will come in some areas. Negotiations are ongoing. But if they come, we will let it happen and fight on from here," Nattawut told supporters from a stage at the center of the main protest site.

Soon after he spoke, protest leaders broke into songs and, in a surreal sight, ran comedy skits from the stage.

They accuse the British-born, Oxford-educated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of lacking a popular mandate after coming to power in a controversial parliamentary vote in 2008 with tacit backing from the military, and have demanded immediate elections.

Troops have thrown a cordon around the 3 sq-km (1.2 sq-mile) protest site, a "tent city" at the Rachaprasong intersection, paralyzing the heart of Bangkok. Hundreds of women and children have taken refuge in a temple inside the protest area.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuagsuban has said moving in on the encampment had to be "a last resort."

The red shirts have been stockpiling food, water, and supplies in their encampment since Thursday when troops began an operation to isolate them, sparking several days of street fighting that has killed 39 people and wounded nearly 300 in Thailand's deadliest political violence in 18 years.

(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; writing by Jason Szep; editing by Bill Tarrant)

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Tuesday, May 18

Thailand Crisis: rising economic toll, government refuses negotiations with Red Shirts until they disperse

VOA - May 18 (no time stamp on report):
The Thai capital, Bangkok, is relatively quiet, despite authorities refusing to negotiate with anti-govenrment protesters until they end their nine-week occupation of a central commercial area. Soldiers have surrounded the demonstrators for a fifth day to pressure them to leave, leading to sporadic clashes that raised the death toll to 68 people killed since April. Earlier, hopes for a ceasefire were raised when a group of Thai senators offered to mediate peace talks between the government and protest leaders, who welcomed the offer. But Thai authorities dug in their heals, refusing talks until after the protesters leave. [...]
The Wall Street Journal reports in the following article that the Red Shirt camp somehow received fresh food supplies. This dashes the government's earlier hope that with food supplies dwindling the protestors would only be able to hold out a more days. The supplies "carried in takeout styrofoam containers in a pickup truck" probably got past the security cordon because of sympathetic police and/or military guards; see my previous post today.

Meanwhile, the economic toll from the standoff has risen steeply for Thailand. Business analysts assumed at first that the crisis would blow over within a couple weeks. Now that it's dragging into nine weeks with no end in sight, and with the threat of a bloody crackdown that could further distance foreign investors, the economic picture at this time is bad for Thailand. This could have big ramifications for the ASEAN region.

WALL STREET JOURNAL - May 18 - 4:01 PM EDT:
Thai Srife Threatens Investment

By PATRICK BARTA And ALEX FRANGOS

BANGKOK—Thailand's standing as a major investment destination is coming under question as its government fails to resolve the country's bloody political crisis and economic damage mounts.
[...]

The crisis was already causing severe damage to Thailand's economy before the latest spasm of violence. But the killings have added a new dimension, forcing businesses to contemplate more drastic steps to ensure safety of their employees and causing some foreign investors to wonder if Thailand's deep social divides can ever be repaired.

Some companies are considering moving employees to hotels near the airport so they can escape more quickly if street violence spreads, while others are shifting their foreign direct investment, or FDI, to other countries entirely.

"Unless the crisis is resolved, law and order restored and a credible process of reconciliation begun, Thailand will probably lose out in the FDI stakes for a long time," says Manu Bhaskaran, chief executive of Centennial Asia Advisors, an economic consulting firm in Singapore. Even longtime investors are wondering "should I be engaged at all" in Thailand, says David Fernandez, a managing director at J.P. Morgan in Singapore.

Tüv Süd, a German company that conducts product testing and industrial certification, with operations throughout Asia, was about to make an acquisition of a Thai oil-and-gas-services firm when the protests intervened.

"Because of the instability we are holding off," says Ishan Palit, chief executive of Tüv Süd's Asia operation. With his German bosses generally eager to expand in Asia, those resources will now go to places such as Malaysia or Indonesia, he says. "Until two weeks ago, the view was still that it was going to come back and be all right," he says. But now, "it's gotten more serious."

Thailand's problems are "a bit more fundamental" than the past, adds Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors in Sydney. "It makes it difficult to justify major allocations to Thailand," he says. "I can find other countries that are more attractive without having to worry about the political situation," he says, including stock markets such as South Korea and Taiwan.
[...]

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Brilliant reporting puts Bangkok crisis in new light (UPDATED)

UPDATE 2:10 AM EDT Wednesday March 19
I've been doing updates on the Thailand crisis; here is the latest post (May 19 12:55 AM EDT Finally, a glimmer of truth about Thailand mess. Implications for Pakistan and Mexico -- and Iran. CIA, please take notes..

Also see latest Reuters report on crisis -- Thai military breaks through Red Shirt camp barricades ...and my May 18 post on steeply rising economic toll for Thailand from the crisis.

And here's the link for the live blogging on the crisis at Reuters site. Cut and paste version of link:
http://live.reuters.com/Event/Bangkok_protests
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7:00 AM EDT UPDATE
The original version of this post heaped praise on Associated Press journalist Denis Gray for reporting that put the standoff between the Red Shirts and the government in a new light: the report detailed police and military incompetence in the handling of the crisis and addressed divided loyalties in the security forces. Gray's report also had implications for maintaining security in today's cities, and particularly megacites, because the crisis had escalated into urban warfare.

Yet within an hour of posting the story I had to yank it; this was when I learned that the Reuters team of Jason Szep and Ambika Ahuja had beaten Gray to the punch by almost 12 hours. Ironically I'd praised the team's reporting in the original version of this post. That's the way things can go in the pell-mell 24/7 news cycle; sometimes a report gets past me.

In their report titled Worst may be yet to come in deepening Thai crisis, the Reuters team pointed out that the police and military had a role in exacerbating the crisis -- a theme that Gray amplified and made the centerpiece of his report.

Gray also emphasized an angle that the Reuters team didn't address, which is the incompetence shown by the police and military. So his report, which I feature below, is still very illuminating.

However, the Reuters report, which contains additional reporting by Martin Petty, also deserves close attention because it addresses important issues that I doubt anyone in Washington wants to grapple with at this time:
[...] Most analysts say British-born, Oxford-educated Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva won't last long.

Whether he resigns depends on whether this operation ends in heavy losses. At the moment, that's a strong possibility.

Neither side is backing down.

Even if Abhisit disperses the crowd, his political prospects look uncertain, dimmed by weeks of bloodshed that includes 25 people killed and more than 1,000 wounded on April 10 when troops tried but failed to end protests in Bangkok's old quarter.
[...]
"The political divide is increasingly hard to bridge. Hardliners are gaining ground and moderates are being squeezed out," said Viengrat Nethito of Chulalongkorn University.

"The king as a traditional conflict resolver and figure of moral authority is in hospital. That leaves few with enough credibility and moral authority to do the job of moderator.

"Many of the country's elders have been discredited, polarized, politicized, and pulled to one end of the political spectrum or another. That leaves no one, or no strong enough institution, to moderate the larger conflict," he said.

With no peacemaker, the risk of unrest is growing in the north and northeast, a red shirt stronghold, home to just over half of Thailand's 67 million people. Scattered signs of unrest have erupted in recent days. The government has imposed a state of emergency in a quarter of the country to keep order.

RURAL MASSES

Without major reforms to a political system that protesters claim favors the elite over rural masses, there's little chance of stifling the anger that has erupted into violence in Bangkok.

Abhisit has offered a national reconciliation plan but has come under fire for failing to build political support to revise a military-written constitution that overtook a 1997 charter seen as Thailand's most democratic constitution.

Analysts say the longer the fighting goes on -- with troops opening fire on demonstrators fighting back with petrol bombs, slingshots and grenades -- the weaker Abhisit looks, and the more alienated he becomes even by his own supporters.

"His position has been in jeopardy since he ordered the crackdown," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"He will go down in the Thai history as a leader who ordered the killing of the people, even when it meant saving the country -- and his own power position."

If pushed aside by his powerful backers, he would likely be replaced by a coalition partner deemed acceptable to the public in a caretaker role. That would do little to resolve the problem, potentially inciting more protests and strengthening the case for immediate polls the protesters' allies would likely win.

That political victory could bring big changes, including the ousting of generals allied with Thailand's royalist elite, a prospect royalists fear could diminish the power of the monarchy -- and one Abhisit's backers would fight to stop at all costs.

"Even if the protestors are dispersed, which obviously will eventually happen, the underlying social tensions and political tensions will not have been resolved, and they will come up again," said Josh Kurlantzick of the U.S-based think tank, Council on Foreign Relations.

"It's a fallacy for the government to think they can just crush this."
The concerns about Abhisit's shelf life as PM are further addressed in a Reuters report filed today from Bangkok by Nopporn Wong-Anan and Ambika Ahuja (2:10 AM EDT):
Thai protesters agree to talks to end violence

[Summary] Thai anti-government protesters agreed on Tuesday to talks brokered by a Senate leader to end Thailand's deadliest political crisis in 18 years, but analysts doubted the negotiations would halt the spiraling violence.

Troops have surrounded thousands of anti-government demonstrators in the fortified camp they have occupied for six weeks in central Bangkok, as soldiers armed with assault rifles skirmish with protesters on several major roads in the capital.

"We have agreed to take a new round of talks proposed by the Senate because if we allow things to go on like this, we don't know how many more lives will be lost," Nattawut Saikua, one of the "red shirt" leaders, told a news conference.

A group of 64 senators in the 150-member Seante proposed the talks and offered to mediate with the protesters, urging a ceasefire on both sides.

But analysts say that while the proposal is positive, it is unlikely to lead to a peace deal.

The government has not responded and a group of 40 other senators with more pro-government leanings called on the red shirts to surrender and enter the court process.

"It's just the beginning and it's the kind of an offer that doesn't carry much weight since the senators are not speaking in one voice," said Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a political scientist at Bangkok's Thammasat University.

But Boonyakiat Karavekphan, political analyst at Ramkhamhaeng University, said the proposal was a promising start.

"Both sides have come to a dead-end and the only way to get out of this deadlock is to return to the negotiations," he said.

The government's response to the offer was not immediately known, but Nattawut, speaking inside the protesters' fortified camp, said it was in the interests of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to seek a negotiated end to the unrest. [...]
All right; so that's where things stood this afternoon in Bangkok.

Now to return to the original post, which I edited lightly to take the Reuters reports into account.

(For readers who keep track of such things: although the Blogger time stamp shows it was posted at 12:05 AM EDT I didn't publish the original until around 2:15 AM.)
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The other night while I was struggling to see through the fog of events in Bangkok, I uttered a string of colorful phrases after I wasted time reading a report by a (London) Times Online journalist. Newly arrived in Bangkok, he wandered around reporting in 'emo-journalism' fashion on his impressions of the Red Shirt riots.

(Think Anderson Cooper's emotional reporting on New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina if you don't know what emo-journalism is.)

I didn't want impressions. I wanted to know what the hell was going on over there. I turned impatiently to the wire services for help. The Reuters bureau chief in Bangkok, an award-winning journalist named Jason Szep who covers Thailand and Indochina, had teamed up with veteran Thai reporter Ambika Ahuja to produce a report that was the clearest window on the crisis at that time.

More and more during the past decade, as major newspapers and television outlets have rolled up foreign desks or slashed them to the bone in cost-cutting measures, the wire services (e.g., Reuters, AP, Bloomberg) have shouldered the burden not only for breaking hard news stories but for investigative reports. A gold-standard example of wire-service investigative journalism is found in the following report by Denis D. Gray for the Associated Press (AP).

The report will be of great interest to police forces and domestic security services, both government and private, around the world. Riding alongside the social problems that led to the Red Shirt protests is the issue of managing megacities in the 21st Century. The issue takes on greater importance with every year that passes as rural populations quickly migrate in large numbers to large cities, turning them into megacities where vast numbers of poor coexist with the business of a financial and/or industrial hub that is often the economic lifeblood of an entire nation.

Whether the megacity is Mumbai, London, Karachi, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, Shenzen or Bangkok (22nd most populous city in the world; 2009 ranking), nations that depend on global trade can ill-afford to see the business of a megacity take a hard blow from natural disasters, incompetent management, mass rioting, or guerilla-style urban warfare.

And that's been the strange thing about the Red Shirt situation in Bangkok: How was a protest movement able to take over Thailand's capital and the country's largest city, given Bangkok's modern police force and a professional national military? And take it over not for days but for almost two months with no end in sight yet? Although the Red Shirts did have access to a few modern weapons their firepower in no way matched that of the police or military's.

Part of the answer seemed to be found in 'Seh Daeng,' a renegade major general who fashioned the Red Shirts' motley crew of defenders into a disciplined paramilitary force. The rest was a mystery, at least for those who're at the bottom of a steep learning curve about Thailand's politics, until the Reuters report mentioned above, and this one:
Thai protests expose military rifts, incompetence

By DENIS D. GRAY (AP) – May 17, 11:00 PM EDT

BANGKOK — Soldiers have been hit by their own tear gas. Riot police scattered in fear when a party balloon popped. An anti-government protester, surrounded by security forces, escaped down a rope from a hotel balcony to the cheers of supporters.

In the two-month standoff between Thai security forces and protesters in Bangkok, there have been times when the demonstrators have seemed more organized and the troops hobbled by incompetence, divided loyalties and dangerous infighting.

Some troops have seemed unwilling to obey government orders. Others openly fraternized with the Red Shirt demonstrators — a motley alliance of rural and urban poor.

Rather than quash the protest movement while it was vulnerable, these actions have allowed the number of demonstrators to mushroom and fortify themselves.

"If Red Shirt organization and staying power has proved surprising, the performance of the security forces has been nothing less than alarming," said Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based security analyst. "A remarkable display of incompetence and inaction has seen swaths of the capital city calmly surrendered to mob rule."

Authorities are trying to choke off a 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometer) area of downtown Bangkok where several thousand die-hard protesters remain entrenched behind barricades of bamboo spikes and tires.

The government hopes that will end the crippling demonstration in which at least 66 people have been killed and more than 1,600 wounded.

There are signs that the government plan is working. Authorities say the numbers inside the protest zone have shrunk to some 3,000 from 10,000 or more a week ago.

But the operation is proving both ineffective and bloody. After the government trumpeted the deployment of overwhelming force — more than 30,000 men and columns of armored personnel carriers — there are inadequate numbers of troops, without any armored vehicles, actually laying siege to the Red Shirt encampment.

And even with their diminished numbers, the Red Shirts have been able to punch out of their enclave and fight running gunbattles with sometimes confused military units in several districts of the city.

"Despite all the violence so far, it is still unclear if the army would be willing to launch a full-on assault to break up the main protest site," said Andrew Walker, a Thailand expert at The Australian National University.

Many within the police, especially in lower echelons, are supporters of the Red Shirts and their hero, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who began his career in the force.

They and sympathizers within the ranks of the army are popularly called "watermelons" — referring to green uniforms but hidden support of the Red Shirt protesters. Several former army officers are serving as military advisers to the anti-government demonstrators. Among them was Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol, who was shot by an apparent sniper last week and died of his wounds Monday.

The debilitating divisions within the Royal Thai Army are more complex.

In contrast to other Asian nations such as South Korea, Indonesia and even Pakistan, which have tamed their once-powerful militaries, Thailand has had a potent, sometimes decisive force in the political arena. Modern Thai history bristles with 18 military coups and military strongmen, with the army commander often exercising more clout than the prime minister.

The current commander in chief, Gen. Anupong Paojinda, has insisted that the army remains united behind "the nation, the people and His Majesty," King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Early in the crisis, Anupong signaled his reluctance to use force and reportedly is anxious about becoming a possible scapegoat with blood on his hands before his planned retirement in September.

Clearly his troops made halfhearted attempts at best to enforce the emergency decrees and other orders from the weak coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The lackluster efforts may have stemmed in part from mixed signals to the troops because Anupong's deputy and likely successor, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, is known as a proponent of aggressive action.

"The military is divided within, with many senior officers seeking advantage over intraservice rivals, while doubting the willingness of enlisted personnel to act decisively against their own class," said G.M. Greenwood of Allan and Associates, a Hong Kong-based risk consultancy.

Amid the crisis, senior officers are engaging in the high-stakes jockeying for position that precedes every year's fall military reshuffle, when some retire and others are promoted or sidelined. Loyalties are often divided along military academy graduating classes.

Speculation persists that during the worst violence on April 10, when 25 people were killed and more than 800 wounded, a faction of the military itself was involved in the killing of a colonel and wounding of two senior officers, all close to Prayuth and slated for promotion.

Other theories say the black-clad killers, caught on film and video, were former pro-Red Shirt army rangers or a military-style unit within the protest movement.

Many Thais and expatriates untutored in military matters are baffled by the lack of grit displayed by many soldiers and police.

"Given that the prospect of civil unrest has been growing steadily since 2006, the failure to develop dedicated units in either the police or military capable of a calibrated response is remarkable," said Davis, who also writes for Jane's Intelligence Review, a security publication. Lacking skills in non-lethal methods, the options narrowed to using deadly force or being overwhelmed by protesters.

The prime minister has defended the army's performance and maintained that the military and government are unified.

"I think it would be unfair to say the military have been unsuccessful in what they tried to do," Abhisit told The Associated Press.

But to date, the record has been unimpressive.

Military authorities have telegraphed operations before they were launched. When Red Shirt leaders left encampments with relatively small numbers of followers, authorities failed to muster enough force to arrest them.

In the most recent clashes, troops seem to be violating a basic military doctrine by taking ground from the protesters and then just pulling back to their original positions. On April 10, soldiers abandoned armored vehicles to protesters armed with little more than stones and bamboo spears.

Actions by police and troops have on occasion smacked of slapstick comedy. A Red Shirt leader, Arisman Pongruangrong, was surrounded by police but eluded them by climbing down a rope from a hotel balcony to rousing cheers from supporters. Soldiers guarding a TV station failed to wear masks when they threw tear gas canisters at onrushing protesters — only to be overcome themselves when the wind changed.

A balloon being festooned for a restaurant's Cinco de Mayo celebration burst unexpectedly and sent armed police positioned outside scurrying for cover in panic. The restaurant owner thought it best to remove the balloons.

Associated Press writer Grant Peck contributed to this report.

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