The Rights Stuff

Who Shot the Dissident Thai General?

| Fri May 14, 2010 8:20 AM EDT

I'm hardly an unconditional supporter of the Thai government, but I admit I've been harboring some respect for the restraint its army has shown during the massive protests that have crippled Bangkok since March. After two dozen people were killed in clashes with troops that were trying to disperse the protesters, the army backed off, even though gunfire was coming from both sides. The protesters, members of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship known as Red Shirts, have largely had the run of the town since, and say they aren't going anywhere until Thailand's prime minister dismantles parliament and calls new elections. I mean, would the US Army let thousands of protesters who were demanding the dissolution of Congress and sometimes shooting at soldiers shut down a square mile of Washington, DC, barricading themselves behind buses and flaming tires for two months?

But yesterday, Khattiya Sawatdiphol, a Thai general who had joined the protesters, was shot in the head by a sniper while talking to reporters. No one knows who did it. Thai newspapers are reporting the Red Shirts' assertion that the government is responsible. They're biased, obviously, but Thai authorities are indeed acting awfully suspicious. A government spokesman told the Bangkok Post that the government didn't plan to kill Gen. Khattiya, but would have trouble determining who did. (Whoever it was will probably be successful: Khattiya is currently in critical condition; doctors say he's unlikely to survive.) "It will be hard to arrest the 'invisible hand,'" the spokesman said, "but authorities will try their best to find the shooter." When does a government ever not say, "We've got all our resources behind solving this case and won't rest until we have some answers" or whatever? When does an assassination attempt of a high-level figure, a military figure no less, happen in public, in the capital, on videotape, and the government response is, "Jeez, we'll look into what happened, but that's gonna be really hard"?

When asked directly by the AP if troops were involved in the shooting, another government spokesman gave this alarmingly shady answer: "The operation by authorities was according to international standards and law. So far, we have not found any actions by the authorities that went beyond that." If the Thai government did not in fact try to kill this dissident, why wouldn't its spokesman just answer that question by saying, "No"?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

New Orleans Notebook: Bug Blight

| Thu May 13, 2010 2:22 PM EDT

The first thing I did when I got to New Orleans a week and a half ago, obviously, was walk barefoot onto a porch and have a cocktail. Which is to say that the second thing I did was incur a rash of insect bites that completely covered my feet, ran up my legs, didn't start itching and burning for about 30 hours, and then caught fire in a manner ferocious enough to keep me awake at night for five days.

I started looking for ways to blame my Louisianan misfortune on Bobby Jindal. A little research did help me cast my accusations in the direction of anti-climate-change-policy haters/global warming deniers/irritating politicians in general. My attackers, it turns out, were the nearly invisible and initially unfeelable Leptoconops torrens, nasty little biting midges that thrive in wet soils. And people who impede progress to combat climate change = exacerbated climate change = the wettest weather on record in New Orleans recently = my very immediate plight. You may also remember climate change from such disasters as Hurricane Katrina. Post-Katrina, the still-abandoned swimming pools are causing an increase in mosquito populations, says an entomologist at the Audubon Insectarium. He also says that reconstruction materials rushed in without inspection from states like Florida brought poisonous brown widow spiders, which have since thrived in deserted houses.

There are more significant points to be made about the human cost of global warming, like sea-rise refugees and we're all going to get dengue fever  and malaria, etc—even right here and now, farmers are suffering as the decline in fire-ant populations after Katrina's storm surge begat more sugarcane borers, which caused a loss to the state sugarcane industry of up to $3 million in 2006 alone. But for the moment, and with the inspiration of another cocktail, I've focused the ways in which global warming is personally complicating my life, and the life of everyone in New Orleans who's trying to drink on their porch in peace, into a flow chart. Click here to behold.


 

Britain's New PM Supports Gay Refugees

| Wed May 12, 2010 5:28 PM EDT

Britain's got a new prime minister, and today I learned one cool thing about him: In February, David Cameron said that the UK should grant gay African refugees asylum.

Indeed. Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi; some Kenyans have recently formed lynch mobs; Uganda's got a bill proposing to punish gays with life imprisonment or the death penalty. Obviously, people who become refugees because they're gay are dangerously disenfranchised in their home country. (And then there are refugees who are already refugees and are also gay, who, between their geographical/political exile and their sexual exile within their own exile communities, are possibly the most disenfranchised population on the planet. The Karen refugees from Burma I lived with were so homophobic that they claimed homosexuality didn't even exist in their culture, though gay Karen activists would certainly take issue with that claim. See also this great 2002 New Republic article about gay Palestinian refugees.)

In the United States, sexual orientation has been grounds for asylum since 1994 (though plenty of applicants encounter obstacles in the granting process). Hopefully Cameron will use his position to actually follow through on his rhetoric. After he broadens the scope of it—Africa is certainly not the only continent on which gays are persecuted.

Stat of the Day: The Waiting (in Jail) Game

| Wed May 12, 2010 1:28 PM EDT

From a conversation with the chief of the Orleans Public Defenders office: In New York, the district attorney has 144 hours after your arrest to decide whether to bring a case against you, or else you're released. In Louisiana, the time you could wait in jail, just on suspicion, possibly without representation, if you were arrested for a capital or life-sentence crime is 120 days.

What Will Happen to Louisiana's Wetlands?

| Tue May 11, 2010 3:54 PM EDT

Yesterday, my very esteemed colleague Kate Sheppard explained how cleanup methods could cause more damage than the Deepwater Horizon leak itself. Here in New Orleans, I chatted with rock-star wetlands researcher Denise J. Reed, who you heard on NPR and at congressional hearings when everyone was talking about post-Katrina coast restoration, and who says there could be more stories in this meme.

Take the Louisiana wetlands, that critical hurricane defense that was already incredibly beleaguered and is now further threatened by millions of gallons of oil. "The cleanup damage could be worse than the oil damage," Reed says. "These areas are incredibly hard to get to. And incredibly delicate. You can't just bring in heavy equipment and pressure-wash boulders like you did after Valdez."

Reed will be working on the plan to remediate the wetlands after this new disaster, but designing, much less implementing, that plan is a ways away. First, researchers will have to figure out the impact of the spill, by painstakingly collecting new data in the wetlands and then comparing it to the pre-Deepwater research Reed and other scientists have been meticulously amassing for years. And of course, before any of that can begin, the leak has to stop. "It's a difficult time now, because for a good while, we'll be helpless," Reed says. "We don't know how long, how much, what way the wind will go. It's like a hurricane coming at you, but really, really slowly, and with endless potential for damage."

15-Year-Old Gitmo Detainee Threatened With Rape

| Tue May 11, 2010 9:21 AM EDT

Last week, there was a pre-trial military commission hearing for Omar Khadr, a Guantanamo detainee who's been in custody since his early teens. An observer for Amnesty International was there to report this crazy bit:

The most damning testimony at today’s hearing came when the defense asked Interrogator #1 directly if he had ever threatened the 15-year-old with rape if he did not cooperate. In his affidavit, Omar Khadr had alleged that

"On several occasions at Bagram, interrogators threatened to have me raped, or sent to other countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Israel to be raped".

Interrogator #1 responded that he had told the teenager a "fictitious story" about a young Afghan who had lied and been sent to a US prison where "big black guys and big Nazis" noticed "this little Muslim" and, in their patriotic rage over the 9/11 attacks, the "poor little kid" was raped in the shower and died.

I should start a subcategory of posts called "Things I read on the Internet that make me involuntarily take the Lord's name in vain out loud." Seems like there are so many levels of laws being broken here, habeas corpus aside: Holding a minor as an adult prisoner, threatening a prisoner with rape, threatening a minor prisoner with rape. Indeed, doesn't that excerpt read like a transcript from the prosecution of an interrogator? Oh yeah, right. We don't really do that.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

A Strike Against Oil Spill Lawsuits

| Mon May 10, 2010 8:46 AM EDT

With the Deepwater Horizon leak pumping 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico and the outer edges of the slick now hitting Louisiana, the state has a lot on its plate. Including a new proposal to immobilize the legal clinics that could help residents bring suit against BP or other parties involved in the spill.

Tomorrow, the Louisiana State Legislature is scheduled to hold a hearing on Senate Bill 549, the baby of Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton), who wants to stymie the work of university law clinics that represent low-income clients while providing hands-on training for future lawyers. Under the measure, the clinics would be barred from filing suits against government agencies, suits seeking monetary damages, or suits that raise state constitutional challenges. Adley has admitted that a key target of the bill is the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic (TELC), whose students and attorneys have successfully litigated dozens of suits against industrial polluters and other environmental offenders on behalf of Louisiana citizens.

The timing couldn't be more crucial—or absurd. In fact, the hearing on SB 549 was originally scheduled for last Wednesday, but was postponed while the state government was busy trying to figure out how to deal with the disaster. When I asked Stephen Griffin, the interim dean of Tulane Law School, if TELC might play some role in post-spill litigation, he said it's definitely a possibility. "Suppose local citizens got upset about their beach being fouled, or their shrimp grounds being destroyed, the shrimpers getting upset." Suppose they did.

New Orleans Notebook: Freezing Budgets, Overheating Pants

| Fri May 7, 2010 4:31 PM EDT

Recommended playlist for driving around New Orleans: Songs off the CDs my friends sent each other while we were spread around the country for several months after Katrina. Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks," of course. Concrete Blonde's "Bloodletting," where "I've got the ways and means" rhymes with "New Orleans." (It's okay because it's a song, though employing that long "e" under any other circumstances would be supremely uncool.) The New Pornographers' "The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism" for obvious reasons; an Erasure cover of Abba's "S.O.S." because we thought a reference to a sinking ship was kind of funny.

My destination: The University of New Orleans. I'm working on a story about the state of higher education post-Katrina, which may or may not end up being a story about how Bobby Jindal's a douchebag.

My first interview was with a former provost and current faculty member. He does not like it when legislators blame UNO's drastic budget cuts on diminished state revenues without mentioning that the tax code was recently revised specifically to diminish revenues. Back in 2002, an amendment called the Stelly Plan eliminated some sales taxes but implemented a new income tax. Two years ago, Jindal eliminated the new income tax without implementing anything to make up for the revenue loss.

Rights Stuff to Read

| Fri May 7, 2010 3:51 PM EDT

Multimedia/infographic edition, apparently.

 

Mother's Day Gifts for Do-Gooders

| Thu May 6, 2010 11:11 AM EDT

If you're like me, you a) have a mom who calls to remind you every time PBS airs a documentary about people suffering and b) have not yet sent her a Mother's Day present because you're a bad kid. And if that's the case, you might find it useful to know that a couple of aid organizations are offering inspiring presents for varying prices but all with the option of a nice-looking, instantly deliverable e-card. The International Rescue Committee has a store stocked with life-saving goodies you can donate in your mom's name, everything from $18 worth of mosquito nets for a whole family to an $87 bicycle to $5,000 for clinic supplies in a war zone. Mercy Corps makes kits, like the Women's Leadership Kit, which supports programs that educate and train women. I think my favorite is the Camel Kit, which delivers enough vaccinations to protect five camels from camel-killing diseases to herders in Mongolia. If you're incredibly broke, and/or your mother is really hardcore, Amnesty International has made an electronic Mother's Day card that says, essentially, "I'm not getting you flowers or breakfast in bed, and you should write a strongly worded letter about maternal health to Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius." (Or you could send flowers, but from a company that donates to Amnesty.) Either way, we've got two days left to get it together.