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Nobody In Charge in Thailand

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Protesters have taken over the International airport and a smaller domestic airport in Bangkok and are demanding the Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, resign, which he has refused to do even after months of demonstrations and violence in Bangkok. Protesters are refusing to negotiate with the government and have promised to stay until the “final battle.”

“A state of emergency has been declared at both Suvarnabhumi and the smaller, domestic Don Mueang airport, which the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have taken over.”

The previous corrupt Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was overthrown in a military coup in 2006 and replaced with a “proxy” government. Thaksin has been indicted for massive corruption and last I heard he was in exile in China because the UK wouldn’t accept him.

What the BBC doesn’t say is that the new PM, Somchai, is Thaksin’s brother-in-law. He is holed up in Chiang Mai which is the Thaksin family home town and where he has a base of support because Thaksin doled out a few baht when he was PM to small farmers who now think he is wonderful.

However, the “elite” in Bangkok, who know what is going on, doesn’t think he is wonderful. The BBC says: “The PAD is a loose grouping of royalists, businessmen and the urban middle class opposed to Mr Thaksin.” Well, this is not a very good description. It also includes respected statesmen, university professors and students. And if the truth were known…probably the revered King who everyone thinks “whispered” his support of the 2006 coup.

“The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Bangkok says that Mr Somchai has already lost the confidence of his army chief, Gen Anupong Paochinda, and rumours of (another) coup are circling in the capital.” The head of Thailand’s powerful army has called for a dissolution of Parliament and new elections.

What the BBC doesn’t say is that the army is refusing to move against the protesters.

The chief of police has been demoted, the BBC says, “to what officials said was an “inactive post” in the prime minister’s office. No official reason was given for Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwanbut’s demotion, but government spokesman Nattawut Saikuar suggested to Thai TV that it was in connection with the protest crisis.”

Come on, I don’t think it would have been difficult to fact check why the police chief was demoted. Everyone knows anyway. So much for the BBC.

My husband, who lives in Thailand says: “Politically hot in Thailand. Nobody in charge. The PM (Thaksin ‘s brother-in-law) attempting to mobilize police and army to open the airport but they refuse to intervene. Can you imagine a head-of-state directing his armies to action and they refuse???? Big comment on the base of power.”

We Thailand watchers (my son and his Thai wife live on Koh Samui in the south) are fervently hoping this doesn’t end in bloodshed like the October 14, 1973 Uprising and the October 6, 1976 Massacre.

Wisdom of The People

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

When I was in high school we had to read the newspaper every week and take a quiz on it. In grade school we read the Gettysburg Address, parts of the Constitution, the 14 Amendments and memorize the Declaration of Independence. So much for “No Child Left Behind.”

November 29, 2008

So much for the wisdom of The People.

A new report from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute on the nation’s civic literacy finds that most Americans are too ignorant to vote.

Out of 2,500 American quiz-takers, including college students, elected officials and other randomly selected citizens, nearly 1,800 flunked a 33-question test on basic civics. In fact, elected officials scored slightly lower than the general public with an average score of 44 percent compared with 49 percent.

Only 0.8 percent of all test-takers scored an “A.”

The multiple-choice ISI quiz wouldn’t deepen the creases in most brains, but the questions do require a basic knowledge of how the U.S. government works. Think fast: In what document do the words “government of the people, by the people, for the people” appear? More than twice as many people (56 percent) knew that Paula Abdul was a judge on “American Idol” than knew that those words come from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (21 percent).

In good news, more than 80 percent of college graduates gave correct answers about Susan B. Anthony, the identity of the commander in chief of the U.S. military and the content of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

But don’t pop the cork yet. Only 17 percent of college grads understood the difference between free markets and centralized planning.

Then again, we can’t blame the children for what they haven’t been taught. Civics courses, once a staple of junior and high school education, are no longer considered important in our quantitative, leave-no-child-behind world. And college adds little civic knowledge, the ISI study found. The average grade for those holding a bachelor’s degree was 57 percent — only 13 points higher than the average score of those with only a high school diploma.

Most bracing: Only 27 percent of elected officeholders in the survey could identify a right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. Forty-three percent didn’t know what the Electoral College does. And 46 percent didn’t know that the Constitution gives Congress power to declare war.

What’s behind the dumbing down of America?

The ISI found that passive activities, such as watching television (including TV news) and talking on the phone, diminish civic literacy. Actively pursuing information through print media and participating in high-level conversations makes one smarter.

The ISI insists that higher-education reforms aimed at civic literacy are urgently needed. Who could argue otherwise? But historian Rick Shenkman, the author of “Just How Stupid Are We?” thinks reform needs to start in high school. His strategy: Require students to read newspapers and give college freshman weekly quizzes on current events.

In his book, Shenkman, the founder of George Mason University’s History News Network, is tough on everyday Americans. Why, he asks, do we value polls when The People don’t know enough to make a reasoned judgment?

Both Shenkman and the ISI pose a bedeviling question, as crucial as any to the nation’s health: Who will govern a free nation if no one understands the mechanics and instruments of that freedom?

Answer: Maybe one day, a demagogue.

Kathleen Parker writes for the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. Send e-mail to

Why Did The Mumbai Attacks Happen?

Friday, November 28th, 2008
One of my favorite people, Deepak Chopra, explains the "war on terror" in the most lucid way I have heard yet.

The Rest of the Story

Thursday, November 27th, 2008
Description of an altercation between a communist group (FPR) and the anarchists after the march commemorating the November 25th 2006 repression by police. When I saw that these groups, among many others, were lining up behind the teachers during the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Letter From An Expat With Another View of Mexico

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008
My Mexican-American friend moved to Mexico a few years ago while working on her husband's papers to legalize him to work in the States...which is taking a lot of time.  This was her recent email: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Settling In Oaxaca

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008
Well, you never know what life will bring you.  I am now looking for an apartment in Oaxaca once again and since the house is rented out it looks like I'll be here for awhile. November 21 was Revolution Day which ... [Continue reading this entry]

Remembering Oaxaca

Sunday, November 16th, 2008
After living for a year in Oaxaca in 2006-7, I have returned here for a couple months before going on to Central and South America.  Now I... Remember the Alcala, the ancient cobblestone pedestrian street: the way your feet tip on ... [Continue reading this entry]

Victory Speech

Thursday, November 6th, 2008
For those who haven't seen Obama's victory speech in Chicago go here.

The World Celebrates!

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008
I am so relieved! I am in Mexico now and didn't have TV but I got a text message from Barack at midnight (you could sign up for text messages on his web site) that said "We just made history. ... [Continue reading this entry]