Kerry In Iraq, Cameron In Scotland, Tennis Tunes

Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils the new iPhones 6 and 6 Plus
Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils the new iPhones 6 and 6 Plus

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

John Kerry arrived in Baghdad this morning where he will meet the country’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to discuss the fight against ISIS, The New York Times reports. Kerry’s visit is part of a Middle East trip aimed at forging a broad coalition in the fight against the jihadist group as President Barack Obama is set to present his strategy in a televised speech tonight. According to The Washington Post, who spoke with Obama’s foreign policy experts, the White House is prepared to use military airstrikes in Syria against ISIS without seeking congressional approval.

The leaders of Britain’s three main parties have cancelled today’s session of Prime Minister’s Questions and are all campaigning in Scotland in a last-ditch attempt to save the union, as Westminster fears seeing the Scots vote for independence from the UK next week, The Scotsman reports.

Writing in The Daily Mail, Prime Minister David Cameron urges Scotland to remain in the UK, “a precious and special country.” “We desperately want you to stay; we do not want this family of nations to be ripped apart.”

The repercussions of a “Yes” vote on September 18 would be huge in terms of politics, economy, security and culture, as The Guardian explains, echoing the words of economist Paul Krugman who warned in The New York Times that Scotland risked becoming “Spain without the sunshine.” British columnist George Monbiot believes however that Scottish independence might unleash hope and provoke a kickstart for progressive movements in the rest of the UK.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared that he would keep Ukraine united, using a cabinet meeting to outline a draft law guaranteeing a “special status” for the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. The proposal is due to be presented to Parliament next week. But according to Ria Novosti, the leaders of the pro-Russian regions said they were “not interested” in Poroshenko’s proposal and would seek independence instead. The World Health Organization meanwhile warned of a “looming health emergency” in the region as winter approaches.

After all the hype clears, that’s how much Apple’s shiny new smartwatch will cost. But you’ll have to wait until next year to actually buy one.

Writing in Les Echos, French political scientist Dominique Moisi weighs in on the situation in Ukraine with some heavy words: “Nobody wants to die for Donetsk, or Odessa, or even for Kiev. As part of the Cold War, in the aftermath of the invasion of Prague by Soviet forces, our policy was "to do nothing, of course," even though the Soviet threat was seen as the primary danger. Today, the adversaries largely have their eyes turned elsewhere. Doesn't the threat of Islamic terrorism in the Middle East and Africa affect us more directly? Russia, like the USSR of yesteryear, recruits agents of influence in our own camps, but not terrorist apprentices who are like a sinister version of the "International Brigades" that is no longer that of anarchy, but that of barbarism.
Read the full article:
Of Course Ukraine Isn't Worth A War, And Yet ...

Michael Moore had some choice words for how history will remember Barack Obama.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority gave the green light for two nuclear reactors to restart, just one year after the country’s last reactor was switched off following the 2011 Fukushima disaster. But the plant, located in the southern part of Kyushu island, will not reopen until the operator gets the local authorities’ approval, although according to the BBC, they are backing the move.


If you’re planning on using Netflix, Reddit, Wordpress or just about any major online company’s website today, don’t be surprized to see the “spinning wheel of death.” It’s part of a campaign to protest against an FCC proposal to create “slow” and “fast” Internet lanes. Don’t worry though, the sites won’t load more slowly today, they’ll just pretend.

LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy released two new songs, using raw data from this year’s U.S. Open tennis matches. Find out just what that means, and how it sounds.

Sacrebleu! The most famous fictional Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells are back for a new novel, published worldwide today. Entitled The Monogram Murders, the book was written by novelist Sophie Hannah. Read more from The New York Times.

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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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