As protests end, what have the Red Shirts achieved?

From Flickr user ratchaprasong

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a Thai academic, socialist, and dissident currently wanted for lèse majesté shares this analysis of the Red Shirt movement as they prepare to conclude their Bangkok protests.

Red Shirt protests in Bangkok, which started in mid-March are about to be wound up. The leaders have accepted a compromise with the military-backed Abhisit government. Elections will not be held immediately, but on 14th November. Earlier Abihist had indicated an election in February 2011 at the earliest.

It is unclear whether the blanket censorship will be lifted. One clear demand that the Red Shirt leaders are expecting is that the Red Shirt TV channel (People Channel TV) will be allowed back on air. It is unclear whether websites like Prachatai will be unblocked. Another demand is that the law be applied equally to all. The Government claims that tomorrow the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister will “surrender” to the police regarding charges of murdering citizens back on 10th April. But it is unclear whether any real charges will be filed against them.

Nothing has been said about the political prisoners, both those in jail for lese majeste and those in jail for blocking roads during the recent protest.

What have the Red Shirts achieved?

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Secretary Gates, Colombia, and Paying Your Client States

Another broken promise: Secretary Gates promotes US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement as a way to "reward" the Uribe government. Photo from Flickr user ZenaShots.

When asked in a Presidential debate why he opposed the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, Barack Obama framed his concerns with Colombia’s deplorable human rights record. Now that he is President and the labor movement is far more inconsequential, these concerns have evidently withered away. Yesterday, Secretary of Defense and Bush Administration carry-over Robert Gates was in Bogota expounding on the need to pay off America’s client state. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

Defense Department officials have favored the pact as a way to reward Colombia for its successful effort at beating back drug trafficking and the country’s insurgency…

“Colombia’s success against terrorists and narco-traffickers does offer a lot of opportunities for them to share their expertise,” Gates said. “We certainly would like to see . . . other countries take advantage of Colombia’s strengths.”

Yes, Colombia has done a smashing job of fighting people like this. Meanwhile, the United States Labor Education in the Americas Project informs us that Colombia remains the most dangerous place in the world for union organizers. More trade unionists have been assassinated in Colombia in the last six years than the rest of the world combined. As for those advances in human rights Gates mentions in the Times report, Colombia still has an impunity rate of 96% in the more than 2,700 worker’s-rights related murders that have been perpetrated in the last twenty years. Perhaps Amnesty International put it best when they reported on the threats facing human rights activists in the country: “Such hostility has been fomented by the Government, which appears to perceive human rights and security as mutually exclusive.”

A People’s Guide to the Health Care Bill

It’s socialism! It’s historic! Actually, it’s neither but the pundits have to call it something if they’re going to spend all day talking about it. So what should we know about the health care “reforms” that Obama and the Democratic Congress have just passed? For a quick rundown of the talking points and the unsurprisingly differing facts, consider this PDF. But to really consider the impact of this bill, let’s start with this editorial from The Socialist Worker appropriately entitled “Worse Than Nothing At All”:

In spite of the hysterical complaints of Republicans, the truth is that the health care measure House Democratic leaders hope to ram through this weekend is a disaster in the making for working people and a massive giveaway to the medical-pharmaceutical-insurance complex.

It will “mandate” people to buy policies from private insurers, without any guarantees of affordable premiums or adequate coverage. It won’t have a “public option.” It will slash spending and benefits for the federal government’s Medicare program by $500 billion. It will impose a tax in some form on employer-provided insurance–supposedly aimed at expensive “Cadillac” plans, but in reality affecting any insurance that has decent benefits.

The article continues to lay out how the twenty million Americans promised coverage under this bill are really getting a hollow promise that disguises the tremendous bonanza this legislation offers to the health care industry and opportunistic conservatives keen on using this to lay siege to women’s rights. Which brings us to our next point.

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Let’s talk about America’s record on women’s rights

America's second-class citizens?

After Jasmin brought my attention to this story, I thought I would roll out a few more coincidentally timed reports that highlight the contradictions between America’s self-proclaimed equality and our astonishing contemporary failures in the area of women’s rights.

Firstly, Amnesty USA has released a new study on the quality of maternity care for American women. It notes:

The USA spends more than any other country on health care, and more on maternal health than any other type of hospital care. Despite this, women in the USA have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than those in 40 other countries. For example, the likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth in the USA is five times greater than in Greece, four times greater than in Germany, and three times greater than in Spain.

Unsurprisingly, there is a tremendous racial disparity as an African American woman’s odds of dying as a result of child birth is four times greater than that of white American.

Secondly, Democracy Now! explored the disparity in median wealth for American women. The median for a single Black woman is $100, $120 for a single Hispanic woman, and $41,000 for a single white woman. Seriously.

If you’re playing along at home, you can check off both “post-racial” and “feminist” on the list of things we hear about America but know are not true. I will also give you a prize if you can tell me how many of America’s governors are women and explain how that reflects the country’s diversity.

Image by Maze Walker on Flickr.

On the real “Climategate”

If you saw Johann Hari’s widely-circulated indictment of corruption in the conservation movement in The Nation, you should watch his interview from Tuesday’s Democracy Now! With Christine MacDonald, he lays out the real outage in the environmental community — the collusion between several of the largest conservation groups and some of the world’s worst polluters. As he wrote last week:

Groups like Conservation International are among the most trusted “brands” in America, pledged to protect and defend nature. Yet as we confront the biggest ecological crisis in human history, many of the green organizations meant to be leading the fight are busy shoveling up hard cash from the world’s worst polluters–and burying science-based environmentalism in return. Sometimes the corruption is subtle; sometimes it is blatant. In the middle of a swirl of bogus climate scandals trumped up by deniers, here is the real Climategate, waiting to be exposed.

MacDonald, meanwhile, has authored Green, Inc. which similarly exposes the complacency of a number of organizations in the wake of alarming corruption and corporate influence.

Q+A: Giles Ji Ungpakorn on the Thai coup

"The situation has similarities to Honduras and Turkey and even Haiti (the latter in terms of how the NGOs reacted to the military coup). It is a sort of distorted class struggle, lead by capitalist politicians like Taksin, but developing its own momentum in a time of deep crisis."

On Friday, Thailand’s Supreme Court ruled to seize over $1B in assets from former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was deposed in a coup in 2006 on the pretext that he used his position to benefit his private businesses. The ruling prompted a few protests lead by the overthrown government’s red-clad supporters but the coup regime used the ruling to turn Bangkok into something of a police state.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a Thai dissident and professor currently living in the UK after being charged with criticizing the Thai crown, answered a few of my questions on the latest developments in Bangkok after filing this analysis with LINKS.

Last week, Thai politics worked its way back onto Western newscasts when the supreme court in Bangkok convicted Thaksin Shinawatra on corruption charges and ordered the seizure of his assets. His conviction ostensibly lent legitimacy to the coup which forced him from power but as we all know, the first casualty of any war is the truth. What should we really know about Thaksin’s trial, its predictable conclusion, and the recent actions of the government?

The trial was supposed to “prove” that Taksin had used his position as Prime Minister to bring in regulations favouring his mobile phone company. Yet it was merely a political trial to give legitimacy to the illegal 2006 coup. A trial held in a society with double standards in applying the law and a judiciary eager to serve the generals.

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Q+A: Mike Rose on America’s public schools

"The question for me is how we might develop a critique appropriate to public education. How to craft an approach and language that is critical without being reductive, that honors the best in our schools and draws from it broader lessons about ability, learning and opportunity, that scrutinizes public institutions while affirming them."

From assassinations that go to the heart of government and power grabs by narco-despots we turn — for what it’s worth — to the minutiae of modern American life. Namely, schools.

As both Republicans and Democrats barrel down the warpath to privatize the nation’s sprawling but remarkably inequitable public education system, the Obama Administration is preparing to dole out billions of dollars to states who embrace experimentation in their schools. Meanwhile, post-secondary education is becoming increasingly inaccessible as was underscored by student upheaval in California when the state proposed drastic tuition increases. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act is being appraised for its successes or lack thereof and the burgeoning home schooling movement as well as the big tent that is the charter school movement outlines that what is really at stake is our very conception of American democracy.

To make some sense of recent developments I exchanged emails with Dr. Mike Rose. A professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and a former teacher, he is the author of a number of books with the most recent being Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us. Slim but poignant, I highly recommend it.

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After the riots: Where is the justice for Peru’s indigenous?

Digging up an issue I have watched for some time, the IPS reported yesterday that justice is still elusive for the indigenous of the Peruvian Amazon. In June of last year, tribal opposition to the government’s trade liberalization policies erupted in rioting. Sixty people were killed in what has been described as the worst fighting Peru had seen in a decade and a revolution that should inspire the world.

While the Peruvian government was forced to hold off on FTA-mandated plans to open large swaths of tribal land to oil, mineral, and timber extraction, it has not been a total victory.

From the IPS report:

Although the technical investigations cleared two of the indigenous demonstrators accused in the murders of 12 policemen during a bloody June 2009 clash between native protesters and the security forces near the northern Amazon jungle town of Bagua, they are still behind bars.

Feliciano Cahuasa and Danny López have been in prison for over eight months, despite the fact that technical crime scene investigations showed that neither of them fired a single shot, and that they are thus innocent of the Jun. 5 killings of the police officers.

On the other hand, no police are in prison for the Jun. 5 shooting deaths of at least 10 indigenous protesters, which occurred when the police were ordered to clear their roadblock on the main highway near Bagua.

This comes on the heels of another report from Indian Country Today concerning the corruption of the official investigation into the riots.

So while the elusive “official story” is likely to pin quite a bit of blame on “foreign provocateurs” and shrug off the actions of law enforcement, we can at least remember Danny and Feliciano.

Artwork by Favianna Rodriguez.

America’s nightly news: Watching us watching you

When the journalist David Barsamian asked Indian writer and political activist Arundhati Roy about her travels in the United States, she admitted that she was amazed how insular a nation America really was. “When you live outside it, and you come here, it’s almost shocking how insular it is. And how puzzled people are — and how curious, now I realize, about what other people think, because its just been blocked out.”

Thus, Roy may not be surprised that when the Tyndall Report broke down the nightly newscasts of the three main networks in the US (ABC, NBC, and CBS), the top Indian story was the appearance of two uninvited guests at the White House dinner for Manmohan Singh.

As the IPS noted this weekend, much can be learned about America’s news diet from the Tyndall Report’s review of 2009 which ranks the airtime given to various issues on the nation’s top three nightly half-hour news broadcasts.

So what were Americans watching? Health care reform and the H1N1 virus dominated the airwaves. Afghanistan received more coverage than Iraq for the first time since the invasion of Iraq (735 minutes to 169 minutes). The international focus was certainly on the Middle East as Israel and Palestine were given 132 minutes (102 of those during the siege of Gaza). Iran’s election and nuclear program was also a central international story with 194 minutes and Ethiopian piracy garnered a considerable amount of press with 112 minutes.
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America’s new right: Racist and proud of it

When I read The Washington Post’s report on the opening of the far-right wing’s Tea Party convention in Nashville, I was taken aback by the remarks of former Republican Congressman and white nationalist Tom Tancredo. While racism undeniably persists in driving a good deal of the American political agenda, the degree to which Tancredo and his ilk in the increasingly mainstream right-wing can be overt and blatant in their bigotry is remarkable and worrying. Here’s what I mean:

On Thursday night, giving the opening address, former U.S. representative Tom Tancredo (Colo.), who ran for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination as an anti-immigration candidate, railed against Obama and “the cult of multiculturalism.” Americans could be “boiled to death in a cauldron of the nanny state,” he said. “People who couldn’t even spell the word ‘vote,’ or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House.”

When Tancredo said, “His name is Barack Hussein Obama,” the audience booed loudly.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow recaps: