Friday, September 22, 2006


How incorrect can you get?? Because the reserve powers of a constitutional Monarch are rarely used (though they have been used several times in Australia), foolish people tend to think that they do not exist or are insignificant. Thailand shows that they do exist and are significant

Thailands's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has reigned for 60 years -- more than any living monarch - has outlasted 20 prime ministers, 15 constitutions and at least as many coups. After yesterday's bloodless coup some in the streets of Bangkok seemed unfazed, sure the King would again see them through crisis. "It's just the news," said one woman, a chicken vendor in the capital. "Tomorrow everything will be back to normal. Everything is OK because we have a king."

In a sign of the monarch's influence, army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin met with King Bhumibol immediately after declaring that he had seized power. As they tried to reassure the Thai public that their intentions were honourable, the military leaders behind the coup broadcast pictures of the King on television.

King Bhumibol has few legal powers but wields enormous influence over his people, who revere him with an almost god-like devotion that confounds outsiders accustomed to the tabloid treatment of European royals. In a culture where religion and royalty are intertwined, the 78-year-old has carefully nurtured his role as caretaker of his people and helped Thailand weather six decades of political and social upheaval. "In times of crisis, when we reach an impasse or stalemate, we look up to the King to help us find a way out," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University.

Despite carving out a position of strict neutrality in politics, he has occasionally intervened to spectacular effect to end domestic upheaval. In 1973, after riots broke out at a Bangkok university, he asked a prime minister and his henchman to leave the country in a bid to halt a rising tide of social disorder. They obeyed. In 1992, he called then-prime minister General Suchinda Kraprayoon to his palace and humiliated him on television for ordering a bloody military crackdown on demonstrations against his government. The prime minister resigned.

Most recently, on April 25, the King publicly castigated Supreme Court judges and ordered them to break a political deadlock caused by months of street protests and inconclusive elections. They nullified the elections and ordered new polls



Three young men who tried to enlist at a U.S. Army recruiting station here appeared to be first-rate military material. Two were college students, and the other was a college graduate. They had no criminal records. They were physically fit and eager to serve at a time when wars on two fronts have put a strain on U.S. troops and the need for qualified recruits is great. But the recruiter was forced to turn them away, for one reason: They are gay and unwilling to conceal it.

"Don't judge me because of my sexuality," said one of the three, Justin Hager, 20, a self-described Republican from a military family who has "a driving desire to join" the armed forces. "Judge me because of my character and drive."

As the Pentagon's search for recruits grows more urgent, gay rights groups are making the biggest push in nearly a decade to win repeal of a compromise policy, encoded in a 1993 law and dubbed "don't ask, don't tell," that bars openly gay people from serving in the military. The policy, grounded in a belief that open homosexuality is damaging to unit morale and cohesion, stipulates that gay men and lesbians must serve in silence and refrain from homosexual activity, and that recruiters and commanders may not ask them about their sexual orientation in the absence of compelling evidence that homosexual acts have occurred.

The push for repeal follows years of legal setbacks, as well as discord among gay rights groups about how, or even whether, to address the issue. Now, rather than rely on the courts, advocates are focusing on drumming up support in towns across the country, spotlighting the personal stories of gay former service members and pushing a Democratic bill in the House that would do away with the policy.

In August the gay rights group Soulforce opened a national campaign by recruiting openly gay people, like the three young men in Madison, who would have enlisted in the military if not for "don't ask, don't tell." As part of that campaign, two young people who were rejected as applicants on Tuesday at a recruitment center in Chicago returned there on Wednesday and engaged in a sit-in. They were arrested but later released without charges.

The move to change the policy faces stiff resistance from the Pentagon and Republicans in Congress, who, in a time of war during a tough election year, have no longing for another contentious debate about gay troops. The House bill, introduced last year by Representative Martin Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, has picked up 119 supporters, but only five of them Republicans. "In the near term, it has zero chance," said Daniel Goure, a vice president at the centrist Lexington Institute. "It's hard to see how anyone would want to give potential opponents any ammunition to knock them off."

A 2004 report by the Urban Institute concluded that at least 60,000 gay people were serving in the armed forces, including the Reserves and the National Guard. But since 1993, at least 11,000 members have been discharged for being openly gay, among them 800 in highly crucial jobs, according to the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm.

For all of that, gay rights groups, gay veterans and some analysts say much has changed since the policy was adopted. A Gallup poll in 2004 found that 63 percent of respondents favored allowing gay troops to serve openly; a similar one, by the Pew Research Center this year, put the number at 60 percent; those majorities did not exist in 1993. Young people in particular now have more tolerant views about homosexuality.

In addition, 24 foreign armies, most notably those of Britain and Israel, have integrated openly gay people into their ranks with little impact on effectiveness and recruitment. In Britain, where the military was initially forced to accept gay troops by the European Court of Human Rights, gay partners are now afforded full benefits, and the Royal Navy has called on a gay rights group to help recruit gay sailors.

The new debate on "don't ask, don't tell" also coincides with multiple deployments that are being required of many U.S. troops by a military that has lowered its standards to allow more high school dropouts and some convicted criminals to enlist. Lieutenant General Daniel Christman, retired, former superintendent at West Point and onetime assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said both the British experience and the shifts in attitudes at home would cause the U.S. armed forces to change, though slowly. "It is clear that national attitudes toward this issue have evolved considerably in the last decade," said Christman, now a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "This has been led by a new generation of service members who take a more relaxed and tolerant view toward homosexuality. This does not mean that we will move to a British-like policy of 'don't ask, don't misbehave' any time soon. But I think it is inevitable that the policy will eventually change along the lines of what the British military presently practices."

On the other side of the divide, Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness, said permitting gay men and lesbians to serve openly would prompt recruitment rates to drop and disrupt unit cohesion, a linchpin in the decision to allow gay troops to serve only in silence. "People in the military live in conditions of little or no privacy," said Donnelly, who advocates a full ban on gay troops. "In conditions of forced intimacy, people should not have to expose themselves to other persons who are sexually attracted to them."



Judging by deeds, not words

After the July 7 attacks Tony Blair and Charles Clarke, then the Home Secretary, promised to remove extremist clerics from Britain. But more than a year later, many “preachers of hate” remain in the country with no apparent action taken against them. They include:

ANJEM CHOUDARY is the leader of al-Ghurabaa, which was formed from the remnants of al-Muhajiroun and banned along with the Saved Sect. Mr Choudary, 39, organised the protests outside the Danish Embassy against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. He was arrested during the march and, in July, fined 500 pounds for failing to give police the required six days notice of the demonstration. He is being investigated in connection with last Sunday’s protests outside Westminster Cathedral over the Pope’s comments about Islam.

ABU UZAIR is a British-born civil engineering graduate and co-founder of the Saved Sect. He has repeatedly praised the September 11 hijackers as “brave warriors”. After the July 7 bombings in London he said: “The banner has been risen for jihad in the UK which means it is allowed for [suicide bombers] to attack.”

AZZAM TAMIMI, a Palestinian-born academic based in Britain, advocated martyrdom when addressing an Islamic convention in Manchester. He told the 8,000-strong audience that dying for one’s beliefs was just, adding: “Martyrs are those who stand up in defiance of George Bush and Tony Blair.” He has said that he would be prepared to be a suicide bomber in Israel.

ABU MUWAHHID is said to be a disciple of Omar Bakri Mohammad. He praised Osama bin Laden and called for all sinners to be killed in video broadcasts in July: “Capture them and besiege them and prepare an ambush from every angle.” He mocked the victims of 9/11 and called for a Muslim state in Britain with a “black flag” over Downing Street.


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