Geopolitics

Ebola In U.S., Falling Markets, Grisham's Controversial Comments

Who is this reckless clipboard man at Dallas airport Ebola scene?
Who is this reckless clipboard man at Dallas airport Ebola scene?
Worldcrunch

Thursday, October 16, 2014

ISIS RETREATING FROM PARTS OF KOBANI
ISIS fighters were retreating this morning from parts they previously occupied in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, on Turkey’s border, a Kurdish official told AFP, explaining that the terrorists now “control less than 20%.” The same official told German news agency DPA that they were running low on medical supplies, as well as ammunition and weapons. This comes after U.S. officials announced yesterday a sharp increase in the number of strikes against ISIS in Kobani, where “several hundred” jihadists were killed, The New York Times reports. Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby warned, however, that the town “could still fall.”

From Kobani, NPR reports that the Kurds are trapped between ISIS fighters and Turkish authorities, who so far have failed to intervene and are instead detaining young Kurdish men on suspicion of terrorism. Turkey is said to be weary of a strong Syrian Kurdish bastion on its border, which would reinforce its enemy, the Kurdish Worker’s Party PKK. But the debate in Turkey over president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to stand by and watch continues, while an opposition leader accused the government of providing logistical, military and medical support to ISIS. “But, this will boomerang back on Turkey,” he warned. Read more from English-speaking newspaper Today’s Zaman.

Kurdish forces were joined recently in their fight by the No Surrender gang, a group of Dutch motorbike riders, Haaretz reports. The gang was encouraged by the Dutch public prosecutor, who said they were allowed to go as long as they were not fighting against the Netherlands.

VERBATIM
The U.S. is wrongly imprisoning too many people for watching child pornography, novelist John Grisham said in an interview with The Telegraph to promote his new book. The best-selling thriller writer’s attack on the American judicial system drew furor and backlash.

WHO PLAYS DOWN FEARS OF EBOLA IN WEST
The World Health Organization has ruled out a major Ebola outbreak in the U.S. and the rest of the West as “unlikely,” given their strong health systems, the BBC reports. This comes amid what the The Washington Post describes as a “drumbeat of bad news,” with the revelation that the Centers for Disease Control allowed a second Ebola-infected nurse to fly on a commercial plane one day before she was diagnosed with the disease, even though she was reporting a low-grade temperature. The 29-year-old nurse has since then been transferredto a special bio-containment unit in Atlanta.

As the nurse was helped on board her flight to Atlanta wearing protective gear, live NBC footage showed a plainclothes man standing amid hazmat-suited workers holding a clipboard. It has left people wondering who the man was and why he too wasn’t properly outfitted. Read more.

President Barack Obama has called for a “much more aggressive” response to the disease, which has killed close to 4,500 people in West Africa. “If we do these protocols properly ... the likelihood of widespread Ebola outbreaks in this country are very, very low,” Voice of America quotes Obama as saying.

Meanwhile, USA Today reports that the Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on Ebola scams. At least three companies have been issued warnings in the past month for trying to cash in on fears by selling treatments or therapies against the deadly virus, even though no drugs have so far been approved.

1,000
São Paulo-based radio station Mix FM is offering a prize of 1,000 liters of water to the person who submits the best "rain dance" video, as an unprecedented drought continues to hit the Brazilian mega-city.

EUROPEAN STOCKS SEE WORST DAY IN YEARS
European stocks resumed their slide this morning, quickly surrendering early gains after yesterday’s panic that wiped close to $672 billion from global shares. Asian shares also fell, with Japan reaching a four-and-a-half month low after losing more than 2%. The Financial Times notes, however, that “Japan aside, the mood on Thursday is comparatively calmer,” although worries over a global growth slowdown continue. In New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped sharply after European markets closed Wednesday, slumping 420 points – 2.5% – and dipping below 16,000 before rebounding to 16,141.

FAREWELL
French actress and Nouvelle Vague icon Marie Dubois died yesterday at age 77 following a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

ASIA-EUROPE SUMMIT IN MILAN
Fifty-three government leaders from Asia and Europe are gathering in Milan today and tomorrow for the 10th Asia–Europe Meeting, officially centered on “Building a Responsible Partnership and Promoting Sustainable Growth and Security,” Xinhua reports. The summit, which “has rarely been in the spotlight” in the past, will attract more media interest this time, according to Deutsche Welle, due to the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko. The presidents are expected to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the summit sidelines to discuss a lasting ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and gas supplies.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Calcalist’s Uzi Blumer reports, an Israeli company says it has developed a simple blood test for detecting breast cancer that it intends to market under the name Octava Pink. “When a blood sample containing cancer antibodies comes in contact with a specific protein, a reaction occurs a few hours later that can be observed in a microscope scan,” the journalist writes. “This indication can lead the doctor to look for a tumor using more traditional breast cancer diagnosis techniques, such as a mammogram, ultrasound or an MRI, which, on their own, can sometimes be inconclusive.”
Read the full article, Israeli Researchers: We Can Detect Breast Cancer With Simple Blood Test.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD


APPLE IPADS UNVEILED
Apple is expected to introduce its latest versions of the iPad and iPad mini at a press event later today, although the company stole its own thunder by accidentally revealing the new tablet models ahead of time in a user guide, The Verge reports. Both models will include a Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Here’s a list of what else to expect.

HONG KONG LEADER OFFERS NEW TALKS
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying reopened his offer of “a dialogue to discuss universal suffrage” with student leaders as early as next week, after new clashes between protesters and the police last night. Read more from the BBC.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY
Jacques Brel’s "Amsterdam," one of the most famous French-language songs, turns 50 today. The Belgian singer didn’t think much of the song’s quality and never recorded it in the studio. In fact, the only recorded version of this masterpiece, later covered by David Bowie, is from Brel’s live concert at the Olympia in Paris in 1964. Watch expand=1] it here.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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