Daily Archives: December 12, 2008

Blackwater Guards Arrested In Utah For Massacre In Iraq

AHN | Dec 8, 2008

Salt Lake City, UT (AHN) – Five former U.S. soldiers and security guards of U.S. diplomats in Iraq were arrested Monday in Salt Lake City, Utah and officially charged with manslaughter for killing 17 Iraqi civilians last year.

Ex-Blackwater Worldwide employees Donald Ball, 26, of West Valley City, Utah; Dustin Heard, 27, of Knoxville, Tennessee.; Evan Liberty, 26, of Rochester, New Hampshire; Nick Slatten, 25, of Sparta, Tennessee.; and Paul Slough, 29, of Keller, Texas appeared with their lawyers at the federal courthouse on S. Main St. for the initial afternoon hearing.

A sixth guard who turned state witness, Jeremy P. Ridgeway, 35, of California, had pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempted manslaughter charges on Friday as part of a plea bargain.

In Washington, D.C., Patrick Rowan, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, announced in a press conference the federal grand jury indictments against the six guards hired by the U.S. State Department through Blackwater. They will be tried at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Jan. 6, 2009 for allegedly firing on Iraqi civilians at a Baghdad square resulting in the deaths of 14 people and injuring of 20 others.

The guards claimed they were fired upon by insurgents and returned fire.

Extreme arctic blast smashes low temperature records on Mt Washington

122 MPH Wind Gust and Record Breaking Cold!

Temperatures bottomed out at 25.2 degrees below zero.

Accuweather | Dec 8, 2008

By Brian Clark

As I mentioned in my entry yesterday, I knew that the early hours of his morning were going to be windy and cold, but it got windier and much colder than I anticipated.

Related

Now I normally get up at 5:30 a.m. so that I can relieve the night observer take the 6 o’clock observation to start my day. This morning, mother nature served as my alarm clock with a wind gust of 122 mph (corrected for temperature and pressure at the time of the gust) at 5:33 a.m. That turned out to be the peak wind gust for not only the day, but so far this winter. About an hour before that wind gust, temperatures bottomed out at 25.2 degrees below zero. This broke the daily record low for December 8, which was previously 24 below set back in 2002. This temperature becomes even more impressive when you consider that through all of last winter, the lowest temperature we recorded was 26 below.

When I went outside for the first time just before 6 a.m., winds were still gusting well over 100 mph and the temperature was right around 20 below. That makes for wind chills of around 65 to 75 below zero, able to cause exposed skin to freeze in a matter of just a couple of minutes. So, you better believe I had every bit of my skin covered!

So all that extreme weather was pretty darn exciting (remember that those of us that call this mountain our work place and home are a little, well, different), but one thing was discovered today that was a result of the extreme weather and definitely NOT exciting. Here is a picture of what I saw while doing the 8 o’clock observation this morning:

mt_washington1

What you are seeing is the microwave dish that is mounted on our tower and houses the antenna responsible for the wireless link to our valley office, the Weather Discovery Center, located in North Conway, NH. Through this link, we are able to connect the summit facility to the rest of our internal network as well as the World Wide Web. Normally this microwave dish would be covered with a radome to protect the antenna from the elements. As you can see from the picture, the recent weather has managed to rip off most of that radome. This is a very bad thing as perhaps you can imagine. It’s unclear at this point exactly how we are going to fix the problem now that we are getting into the heart of winter on the summit. No matter what the plan we come up with though, nothing is going to happen in the next couple days with more high winds on the way.

Gov. Bill Richardson lets slip that “Obama is an immigrant”

Obama Richardson 2008

“Obama es un inmigrante.”

“Barack Obama is the best candidate for the Hispanic community because our community wants a united country. Obama is an immigrant. When he speaks to Latinos, he doesn’t just speak about immigration and civil rights. . . .”

Obama’s own Cabinet member: He’s ‘an immigrant’

WorldNet Daily | Dec 9, 2008

By Janet Porter

Don’t believe Barack Obama’s grandmother? Don’t believe the ambassador to Kenya? How about Barack Obama’s own Cabinet member?

That’s right – former presidential candidate and Obama’s choice for secretary of commerce, Gov. Bill Richardson, slipped up. In an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community, he admitted what Barack Obama has been trying to hide all these months: “Barack Obama is an immigrant.” See it for yourself:

You don’t need a translator to understand what Richardson admitted: Barack Obama is NOT a natural born citizen. That means we have a guy who’s planning to take over the White House who is in direct violation of the Constitution. And his own Cabinet member says so. That’s pretty big news, one would think. But the media has refused to cover it with anything more than a blurb laced with a “this is ridiculous” tone. It is ridiculous – ridiculous that the Constitution means so little that we can’t even ensure that it’s being followed. It’s ridiculous that the story of the century is being ignored by those whose job it is to report it.

But now there’s something even more ridiculous: Not only will Fox not report the news regarding Obama’s citizenship, now we can’t even buy an ad on Fox to allow others to hear about the constitutional crisis we’re facing.

Full Story

Related

Obama’s true colors: Black, white … or neither?
Many people insist that ‘the first black president’ is actually not black

Americans’ Net Worth Plunges Nearly $3 Trillion

Consumer Affairs | Dec 11, 2008

Just about the time government statistics found that American families’ net worth had plunged $2.8 trillion, a group of economists predicted that the current recession may turn out to be the longest and most painful downturn since the Great Depression.

The decrease in net worth during this year’s third quarter was fueled largely by plunging real estate values. The U.S. Federal Reserve reported that real assets lost $646.9 billion as home values plummeted in a wave of foreclosures. Nationwide, the average price of a single family home is now back to what it was in 2004.

And look out — the fourth quarter is likely to be even worse, the Fed said. Job layoffs increased sharply in October following the sudden Wall Street credit crises in mid September. So far this year, nearly two million U.S. jobs have disappeared.

The findings coincided with the release of the Wall Street Journal’s latest economic-forecasting survey, which found economists expect the downturn to conclude in June 2009, marking an 18-month duration, the longest postwar period of decline.

The economists on average said the unemployment rate will peak at 8.4% in response to this recession, as pain in the labor market extends into 2010.

“For the household sector, this will be the worst event we’ve had in the post-World War II period,” said Bruce Kasman of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

But at least the economists surveyed by the Journal said the situation could be worse.

“The downturn would be deeper still, in our view, were it not for an ultra-aggressive combination of monetary and fiscal stimulus that will soon move into high gear,” Morgan Stanley economists Richard Berner and David Greenlaw said in a research note. “Authorities are pulling out all the stops: Quantitative easing by the Fed and the largest-ever fiscal stimulus package likely will promote stability in the economy late in 2009 and a moderate recovery in 2010.”

On the employment front, the situation is still deteriorating. The U.S. Labor Department reported today that the number of Americans filing for first time unemployment benefits surged to 573,000. That’s a 26-year high and the number of workers now receiving benefits is at its highest level since 1982.

Jean Charles de Menezes: damning verdict on police as family condemn ‘whitewash’

Jean Charles de Menezes body

Jean Charles de Menezes was shot seven times in the head Photo: PA

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De Menezes ’shot for 30 seconds’ to silence him? Why?

The jury at the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes have returned a damning verdict on the police operation which led to his death as his family branded the proceedings a “whitewash”.

Telegraph | Dec 12, 2008

By Richard Edwards and Gordon Rayner

After a three-month hearing, jurors rejected the idea that the innocent Brazilian had been killed lawfully by police and returned an “open verdict”.

In answering a series of questions set by the coroner they dismissed the accounts of firearms officers who claimed they had shouted a warning before shooting Mr de Menezes.

The 27-year-old electrician was shot dead in July 2005, on a Tube train at Stockwell Underground station, after being mistaken for a suicide terrorist who had attempted to bomb the London transport network the previous day.

Jurors criticised the operation for failing to use better photographs of the suicide bomb suspect which could have helped with his identification.
They said it was a police failure that Mr de Menezes was not stopped before he reached public transport.

Other factors which led to his death included shortcomings in communications between police units on the ground, and a failure of commanders at Scotland Yard to have an accurate picture of what was happening.

The jury, which deliberated for seven days, rejected the suggestion that Mr de Menezes’s “innocent” actions had in some way increased suspicions of police.

Jurors returned an open verdict – the only option they were given after the coroner ruled they could not find that Mr de Menezes was illegally shot dead by officers.

Family members branded proceedings, which cost an estimated £6 million, a “complete whitewash”.

The Brazilian’s family released a statement that heavily criticised the coroner, Sir Michael Wright, and said that he “has not conducted a fair or impartial inquest”.

They are calling for a Parliamentary inquiry and for the Met and the Independent Police Complaints Commission to hold individuals to account.

The coroner had directed them to find an open verdict only if they rejected that the two marksmen who shot dead Mr de Menezes, “were acting in lawful defence of themselves or others” having “honestly although mistakenly” believed that he was a suicide bomber.

The verdict is unlikely to end the controversy over the death of Mr de Menezes.

His family had made their feelings known when they staged a dramatic courtroom protest on December 4 after Sir Michael had ruled out unlawful killing as a possible verdict.

Four members of the family approached the jury and unzipped their tops to reveal T-shirts bearing the slogan: “Unlawful killing – your right to decide.”

Following the protest in court, cousin Vivien Figuerdo said: “For three and a half years we have had one simple request, that all the evidence be put in front of the jury and for them to be allowed to decide.

“We have faced a system which has repeatedly blocked, silenced and stopped all the avenues we have tried in order to get justice.”

The de Menezes family’s legal team, led by Michael Mansfield QC, withdrew from the inquest in protest after Sir Michael’s ruling, and Mr Mansfield is expected to apply for a judicial review of that decision.

Secret ‘EU President’ talks begin as Ireland is forced to vote again on treaty

Secret talks to create a European Union President and Foreign Minister will begin in the New Year after the Irish government confirmed it would hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Telegraph | Dec 12, 2008

By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels

EU leaders have agreed a “path” offering Ireland concessions “with a view to enabling the Treaty to enter into force by the end of 2009”.

Negotiations on the EU President and Foreign Affairs posts created under the Lisbon Treaty stopped in June when the Irish vote ‘No’.

But with a new Ireland deal done, diplomats have confirmed secret talks on the job description of the EU President and the size of a new European diplomatic service, will now begin – months before the Irish vote again.
“Preparatory work can now continue,” said a diplomat.

William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: “It would be a serious mistake to take the Irish people for granted. It would be democratically illegitimate to start putting the renamed EU Constitution into force when the Irish people have yet to give their democratic consent.”

Candidates for the two top EU jobs will be chosen at a summit in December 2009 after intense work is carried on throughout next year. Tony Blair has already been named among the front-runners for the President of Europe post.

EU leaders will promise that under the deal, Ireland will keep a permanent European Commissioner along with legal guarantees that Brussels will not interfere with the country’s military neutrality, taxation, social and ethical issues.

Michael Martin, the Irish Foreign Minister, said: “Work remains to be completed with our European partners over the coming months and any second referendum is conditional on satisfactory conclusion of that work.”

Eurosceptic think-tank Open Europe has suggested the concessions “contain no legally-binding guarantees for Ireland”.

Open Europe director Lorraine Mullally said: “Making the Irish vote again would mean a referendum on exactly the same text of the Lisbon Treaty, which they have already rejected.”

The second Irish referendum is expected to take place next autumn once details of opt-outs and concession are concluded in June 2009.

A draft summit statement says: “The Irish government is committed to seeking ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of the term of the current Commission.”

The Brussels executive’s term of office ends on Oct 31 2009 but there are plans to extend the Commission’s mandate until the end of the year.

Declan Ganley, leader of the Irish No campaign, yesterday (THURS) launched a new EU-wide political party that will field British candidates in European elections next year.

He told The Daily Telegraph that the issue of democracy and the EU was too big to become a ritual contest between Conservative and Labour.

“The European elections are too good and unique an opportunity to be a playground for a usual Tories versus the government playground. We should not waste them on that,” he said.

“This is the referendum that Gordon Brown refused to give the British people. We are delivering a mechanism for the British people to have that referendum.”

A right royal mess: Thailand’s political conflict and the taboo subject of its monarchy

bhumibol_epa

King Bhumibol on parade. Photo: EPA

Thailand’s interminable political conflict has much to do with the taboo subject of its monarchy. That is why the taboo must be broken

The Economist | Dec 4, 2008

BANGKOK | EVEN the most revered of kings, worshipped by his people as a demigod, is not immortal. Thais were reminded of this last month when six days of ornate cremation ceremonies, with gilded carriages and armies of extras in traditional costumes, were held for Princess Galyani, the elder sister of their beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej (pictured above). There was talk in Bangkok of the princess’s funeral being a “dress rehearsal” for the end of Bhumibol’s reign, 62 years long so far. Making one of few public appearances this year, shortly before his 81st birthday on December 5th, the king did indeed look his age.

The funeral only briefly calmed a political conflict that has raged for three years between supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted by royalist generals in the 2006 coup, and an opposition movement backed by much of Bangkok’s traditional elite, apparently including Queen Sirikit. But the day after the ceremonies ended a grenade exploded among anti-Thaksin protesters, killing one. The anti-government protesters, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), who had been occupying Government House since August, then seized Bangkok’s main airports, causing chaos. The siege was lifted only eight days later, after a court dissolved the main parties in the pro-Thaksin coalition government.

Thaksin Shinawatra gives the secret sign

Thaksin Shinawatra gives the secret sign

Mr Thaksin is in exile, convicted in absentia of corruption. But a government dominated by his allies has governed since democracy returned in last December’s elections. It looks poised to carry on under new party names despite the court ruling. Last month Mr Thaksin staged a huge rally of his “red shirt” supporters to remind his “yellow shirt” royalist foes in the PAD, who claim to be protecting the king against Mr Thaksin’s supposed republicanism, that he remains Thailand’s most popular politician.

Besides justified concerns about Mr Thaksin’s abuses of power, one of the royalists’ worries is that he was building, through populist policies such as cheap health care and microcredit, a patronage network and popular image that challenged the king’s. Another fear is that Mr Thaksin’s alleged generosity to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn in the past was intended to build up influence with him once he succeeds to the throne. For these and other reasons, the little-told back-story of King Bhumibol is vital to understanding the predicament of this country of 64m people.

Many Thais will squirm at what follows, and will prefer the fairy-tale version of the king’s story. But the king’s past actions are root causes of a conflict dividing the country, and need to be examined.

Bhumibol’s tale, even if stripped of the mythology his courtiers have spent decades constructing around him, is exceptional. The American-born son of a half-Chinese commoner accidentally inherits a throne close to extinction and revives it, creating one of the world’s most powerful and wealthy monarchies, and surely the only one of any significance to have gained in political power in modern times. The king’s charisma, intelligence, talents (from playing the saxophone to rain-making, a science in which he holds a European patent) and deep concern for his people’s welfare make him adored at home and admired around the world. His image perhaps reaches its zenith in 1992, after the army shoots dozens of pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok, when television shows both the army leader (and prime minister) Suchinda Kraprayoon and the protest leader, Chamlong Srimuang (now a PAD stalwart), kneeling in an audience with him. Shortly afterwards General Suchinda resigns, and the king is given credit for the restoration of democracy.

However, Bhumibol’s story is also that of a king who lost faith in democracy (if he ever really had it), who constantly meddled behind the scenes in politics and thus, in the twilight of his reign, risks leaving behind a country unprepared for life without “Father”, as Thais affectionately call him. Understanding why a country that was until recently a beacon of pluralism in Asia has become such a “mess”, as the king put it in 2006, is impossible without lifting the thick veil of reverence surrounding him.

This is not easy because, paradoxically, a king whose adulation by his subjects is supposedly near-universal is nevertheless deemed to need protection, in the form of the world’s most ferociously enforced lèse-majesté law. Whereas other monarchies have mostly abolished or stopped enforcing such laws, Thailand’s was made harsher in the 1970s. Even the most mild, reasoned criticism of the monarchy is forbidden, punishable by up to 15 years in jail. This has had a remarkable effect not just on Thais but on successive generations of Western diplomats, academics and journalists who, with few exceptions, have meekly censored themselves.

All the king’s men

The origins of this, in part, were in the Vietnam war, in which America found King Bhumibol a staunch anti-communist ally. Recognising his value as an anti-red icon, America pumped propaganda funds into a campaign to put the king’s portrait in every Thai home. Even today, although quick to decry undemocratic moves in other Asian countries, America rarely protests at the arrests of Thais and foreigners for criticising the monarchy. Foreign journalists and academics need visas and access to officialdom to do their jobs, and thus have played down the royal angle to any story.

As a result of this conspiracy of silence, only one serious biography exists of one of Asia’s most important leaders. “The King Never Smiles”, by Paul Handley, an American journalist (2006), notes that the king’s restoration of the power and prestige of the Thai monarchy “is one of the great untold stories of the 20th century.”

Mr Handley says that in the two intervening years nobody has disputed the main facts in his book; not even the most damning stuff, which explodes the myth that the king rarely intervenes in politics and then only on the side of good. Perhaps his gravest charge is that in 1976 the king seemed to condone the growth of right-wing vigilante groups that, along with the army, were later responsible for the slaughter of peaceful student protesters. As has happened often in modern Thai history (and could easily happen again now), the 1976 unrest was used as a pretext to topple the government and replace it with a royally approved one.

Bhumibol was 18 when he took the throne after the mysterious death of his ineffectual brother, King Ananda, in 1946. He promptly came under the sway of his uncles, princes itching to restore the power and wealth the crown had lost when the absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932. As he grew into his robes in the 1950s he created a comprehensive patronage system. The award of honours in exchange for donations to royal causes made the monarchy the predominant fount of charity. This “network monarchy”, as it was dubbed by Duncan McCargo, a British academic, put the king back at the centre of Thai society and recovered much of his lost power.

A theme now embraced with gusto by the PAD, inspired by the king’s speeches over the years, is that electoral politics is irretrievably filthy and that Thailand would do better with ad hoc rule by royally favoured “good men”. The epitome of these is General Prem Tinsulanonda who, as unelected prime minister in the semi-democracy of the 1980s, did more than anyone else to foster the idea of the king’s near-divinity. Now president of the privy council, General Prem is also supposedly above politics. But this too is a myth: he is widely seen as the mastermind of the 2006 coup. Shortly beforehand he told the army that the king was its “owner” and Mr Thaksin merely a replaceable “jockey”.

AP

PAD royalists wear yellow. Photo: AP

The PAD is a motley bunch, united only by fanatical hatred of Mr Thaksin. It includes disgruntled businessmen, aristocratic ladies, members of a militaristic Buddhist outfit, formerly anti-monarchist intellectuals and reactionary army types. Its “new politics”, consisting of a partly appointed parliament, sweeping powers for military intervention and, of course, a strong crown, is “Premocracy” redux.

The army is a big part of the country’s predicament. Its generals believe they have a right to remove any government that incurs its, or the palace’s, displeasure—taking its cue from the monarchy that has approved so many of its coups. These two obstacles to Thailand’s democratic development are inextricably interlinked.

Mr Handley criticises the way the king has undermined the rule of law. When he has intervened to make known his wishes, his influence is such that it is taken as an order. In an example too late for the book, months before the 2006 coup the king ordered the country’s judges to do something about the political crisis. In a recording of a phone call between two Supreme Court judges shortly afterwards, later posted on the internet, one says they need to avoid the perception that they are following palace orders because “foreigners wouldn’t accept it”.

Since then, their interpretation of the king’s wishes has become increasingly clear, as the courts have rushed through cases against the former prime minister and his allies, while going easy on their critics. Some cases, such as the corruption allegations against Mr Thaksin, clearly deserved the courts’ attention. Others were trivial, such as the court-ordered sacking in September of Samak Sundaravej, the pro-Thaksin prime minister, for doing a television cookery show. In contrast, rebellion charges against the PAD’s leaders over their seizing of Government House were watered down and the courts freed them to continue the occupation.

None of this is to absolve Mr Thaksin and his cronies of their sins. But even his gravest abuse—a “war on drugs” in 2003, in which police were suspected of hundreds of extra-judicial killings—was not entirely his fault. The dirty war against supposed drug-dealers was misguidedly supported by Thais of all social classes. Even the king, in an equivocal speech that year, sounded at times as if he approved of it.

Father knows best

Other countries, from Spain to Brazil, have overcome dictatorial pasts to grow into strong democracies whose politics is mostly conducted in parliament, not on the streets. Thailand’s failure to follow suit is partly because “Father” has always been willing to step in and sort things out: his children have never quite had to grow up. The Democrats, the parliamentary opposition, are opportunists, cheering on the PAD while seemingly hoping for another royally approved coup to land the government in their lap.

AFP

Princess Sirindhorn is preferred. Photo: AFP

The rage of Bangkok’s traditional elite against Mr Thaksin stems partly from embarrassment at having originally supported him. When he came to power in 2001 there was a feeling that Thailand needed a strong “CEO” leader, as the former businessman presented himself. His then party, Thai Rak Thai (TRT), was the first in Thai history to win a parliamentary majority on its own, and formed the first elected government to serve a full term, after which it was re-elected. Mr Thaksin’s policies of improved public services and credit for the poor, though self-serving, promised to improve an unequal, hierarchical society: another reason why the old palace-linked elite wants him eliminated.

The government of generals and bureaucrats installed by the 2006 coup-makers performed miserably. In last December’s elections, though TRT had been disbanded, Mr Thaksin’s new People’s Power Party won most seats. This spurred the PAD to resume its protests. In clashes in October PAD members fought the police with guns, bombs and sharp staves, hoping the army would again use disorder as the pretext for a coup. The PAD nevertheless blamed the clashes entirely on police brutality, and the anti-Thaksin Bangkok press let it get away with this. The death of one PAD member, apparently blown up in his car by the bomb he was carrying, was quickly buried. But the death of a young woman, reportedly when a police tear-gas canister exploded, became a cause célèbre.

Up to this point there were only whispers as to why the PAD enjoyed such lenient treatment—even from the army, which refused to help the police remove protesters from government offices. However, rumours of an extremely influential backer were confirmed when Queen Sirikit, attended by a clutch of cameramen, presided over the dead woman’s cremation. The king remained silent.

Nobody can discuss, of course, what effect the queen’s support has had on the majority of Thais who still, apparently, back Mr Thaksin. A whirl of lèse-majesté accusations have been made against pro- and anti-Thaksin figures. But the PAD’s ever more menacing behaviour, the palace’s failure to disown it, and the group’s insistence that Thais must choose between loyalty to Mr Thaksin and to the king, may be doing untold damage to the crown itself. Some of Mr Thaksin’s voters must be contemplating the flip-side of the PAD’s argument: if the monarchy is against the leader they keep voting for, maybe it is against them. Such feelings may only be encouraged by the PAD’s condescending arguments that the rural poor, Mr Thaksin’s main support base, are too “uneducated” to have political opinions, so their voting power must be reduced.

At a pro-Thaksin rally in July a young activist ranted against the monarchy, calling the king “a thorn in the side of democracy” for having backed so many coups, and warning the royal family they risked the guillotine. She was quickly arrested. What shocked the royalist establishment was not just the startling criticism of the king—but that the activist was cheered. “It is more and more difficult for them to hold the illusion that the monarchy is universally adored,” says a Thai academic.

Bloomberg

…to the stiff crown prince. Photo: Bloomberg

This illusion is crumbling amid growing worry about what happens when the king’s reign ends. The fears over Mr Thaksin’s past influence on the crown prince are overshadowed by far deeper ones about the suitability of the heir to the throne. Vajiralongkorn has shown little of his father’s charisma or devotion to duty, and in his youth suffered from a bad reputation. In a newspaper interview he defended himself against accusations that he was a gangster. But even his mother, in an extraordinary set of interviews on a visit to America in 1981, conceded he was a “bit of a Don Juan”. “If the people of Thailand do not approve of the behaviour of my son, then he would either have to change his behaviour or resign from the royal family,” she said.

The Thai press dutifully self-censored and certainly would not repeat these criticisms now. Nevertheless, the crown prince will probably remain deeply disliked. There has been speculation over the years that the king might pass the crown to the much more popular Princess Sirindhorn, who now does most of his job of touring the country to meet the masses. The 8pm nightly royal news on television constantly shows her, smiling through endless visits and ceremonies, making merit at Buddhist temples and doing other good works. In the crown prince’s rare appearances he looks reluctant and stiff, and is rarely seen meeting ordinary people.

The patrilineal tradition of the Chakri dynasty is unlikely to be broken. And the prominent role played by the crown prince in Princess Galyani’s cremation removed any doubts about whether he was the chosen heir, says a Thai academic. Even so, many Thais, a superstitious people, will remember an old prophecy that the dynasty would last for only nine generations—Bhumibol is the ninth Chakri king—and that a tenth would be a disaster.

Some day my prince…

For all these reasons, a former senior official with strong palace ties says there is a terror of what will come after Bhumibol. “When we say ‘Long live the king’ we really mean it, because we can’t bear to think of what the next step will be,” he says. Most Thais are too young to remember a time before Bhumibol took the throne. His death will be a leap into the unknown. It would seem wise for royal advisers to be doing some succession planning. But, says the former official, none seems to be going on. And any advice offered would probably not be heeded: “The king is his own man. Nobody advises the king,” he says.

In the shorter term, a trigger for renewed confrontation may be, if a pro-Thaksin government survives, its plan to amend the constitution passed during the military regime that followed the 2006 coup. Some mooted changes, such as restoring a fully elected Senate, seem reasonable. But the PAD assumes the main motive is to relieve Mr Thaksin and his allies of the various legal charges against them. Neither side yet seems willing to compromise. Both have made clear their readiness to use street mobs to achieve their ends.

A messy but effective “Thai-style compromise” is still hoped for, to pull the country back from the brink. It is even possible to dream of the red- and yellow-shirt movements transforming themselves into a well-behaved, mainstream two-party system with broad public participation. This, in turn, might help the country escape the dead hand of the courtiers and generals who are trying to drag the country into the past. But none of this is likely.

If Bhumibol’s glittering reign either ends in conflagration or leads to a Thailand paralysed by endless strife, with nobody of his stature to break the deadlock, it will be a tragedy. But he will have played a leading role in bringing about such an outcome. There is of course an opposing case to be made—that the king has been a stabilising influence in a volatile age, that his devotion to duty has been an inspiring example and that he has only ever done what he thought best for the country. But that case has been made publicly, day in, day out, for decades. Thais are not allowed to discuss in public the other side of the coin.