Episode 7: Drew Love

Drew Carey

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We are proud to present you with the seventh episode of Talking Questions. James Cassidy is back, due to popular demand. We play some Would You Rather, talk a few questions, and as always.. bring the funny. Let us know what you think!

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About Talking Questions

A newborn podcast birthed by its loving parents Lee Kelly & Gage Spry.

Posted on September 13, 2011, in Podcast and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

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  7. Very nice info and straight to the point. I don’t know if this is in fact the best place to ask but do you guys have any ideea where to employ some professional writers? Thx :)

  8. Totem Soup Episode 82: The Cleveland Steamer Chainsaw Massacre Featuring Cry To The Blind – http://totemsoup.com/2011/09/15/totem-soup-episode-82-the-cleveland-steamer-chainsaw-massacre-featuring-cry-to-the-blind/


    Totally were talking about you guys on the show lol!

  9. Like what your doing guys keep up the good work.
    From across the pond.
    Sebastian – The Fishtank Podcast!

  10. Glug. No they’re not. You’ve been reading too much output from the Robert Amsterdam propaganda mill. Robert Amsterdam is a paid political lobbyist who specializes in character assassination of politicians and movements opposed to his client. He likes to pitch himself as a “human rights activist” but he simply uses human rights as one tool in his portfolio for harassing his client’s rivals. At the moment, Robert Amsterdam is being paid by Thaksin Shinawatra so everything he says and does is determined by the need to promote the interests of his client. Since both the client and the interests are very unsavory, this requires substantial prevarication and obfuscation.

    Before going into what’s been happening in Bangkok this year, some background is essential. Not just on Thaksin Shinawatra himself but also on Thai politics in general. Let’s start with Thaksin. The man is a billionaire who made his pile getting sweetheart deal contracts from the Thai Government for work in modernizing Thai telecommunications infrastructure. He was also a Lieutenant Colonel in the Thai Police. When he first entered politics, his act was quite revolutionary. Normally a Thai political campaign consists of the candidate publishing lists of worthy people who support him. In effect, they provide lists of references that more or less state “I am a good person and can be trusted to work in your interests.” People then voted for whoever paid them the most. In Thailand, it’s quite possible to have a worthwhile debate on whether vote buying is wrong or not. Thaksin changed that. He conducted a western-style campaign that put a portfolio of promised policies out and invited people to judge his party on the basis of those policies. This was so different that it worked rather well. His Party became the largest in the Thai Parliament and he pushed through the items on his agenda (low cost medical care, low-interest loans for farmers and a few other things, all calculated to endear himself to the rural population – note still buying votes but wholesale rather than retail and using Government money to do it). When the next election came up, his party wasn’t just the largest one, it actually had an overall majority.

    This made Thaksin’s real objectives critical. Thaksin is (or was) a great admirer of the Singaporean model of government and industry. He wanted to create a new Thai state in which there was a single party (controlled by him) and a single corporate entity (controlled by him). The fact that Singapore doesn’t really work that way is neither here nor there. Thaksin wanted a state where there was no center of government or economic power that was outside his control. With a majority in Parliament, he set about achieving just that. Hold that thought.

    Now, let’s look at Thai politics. Thailand is an odd place; it’s one of the few countries in the world where the political establishment openly says “we’re politicians, don’t trust us.” There is an ongoing presumption in the country that political shakeups should never be seen in terms of black and white. The message is to look with skepticism on political changes and to assume that all political movements are corrupt and tainted by greed and ambition. There is an assumption that all are backed by a hidden hand that is pushing a secret agenda. This is an intensely cynical view of course, and one that leaves no room to suppose that a protest is both genuine and sincere. It also presumes that idealistic people can be too easily-fooled (there is a Thai joke that the only difference between the words idealist and idiot is the way somebody says them), a belief that results in the fear that legions of gullible farmers might be turned on the capital by calculating politicians. The only defense against that eventuality, it is held, is that people must be constantly made aware that the motives of all political leaders are suspect. There is only one person in Thailand whose integrity is not questionable and that is the King (and by extension the institution of the Monarchy – and, by the way, that trust is earned, not demanded).

    Back to Thaksin. In his second period as Prime Minister, he began his real agenda. There are checks and balances in Thailand; there are parts of the court system that are there to prevent political corruption (by which the Thais mean something a bit different from everybody else). There are parts of the government that are designed to stop things happening too fast or in ways that are disallowed by the constitution. Above all, there is the Army.

    More background. If a Thai officer is asked to define the role of the Thai armed forces in general, and the Royal Thai Army in particular, the reply is likely to be some variant of “a political instrument aimed at maintaining the internal and external security of the kingdom.” The emphasis on political considerations inside the Thai armed forces rings strangely and uncomfortably on British and American ears, which are used to the concept of an apolitical military. Yet our hypothetical Thai officer may well reply to such concerns by pointing out that war is an extension of politics by any means and that war fought without regard to political objectives is just mindless butchery. One of the awkward questions always asked about democracy is the possibility that 51 percent of the population may vote to exterminate the other 49 percent – and what should be done about that extremity? Some countries answer the question by denying its possibility; in the U.S., the Supreme Court would not, in theory at least, uphold such a position. Returning to our hypothetical Thai officer, the answer would be that it was the duty of the Army to protect all the citizens of the country, not just those who agreed with the government. After all, as the argument goes, the Army belongs to the country and the people. It is the people who pay for the Army with their taxes, and through conscription, it is they who provide its personnel. Therefore, the Army has the obligation to act for all the people, not the political party that has the majority in the government. There is a saying in Thailand “If you are in trouble, seek the man on the white horse.” The “man on the white horse” is an army officer. It’s a piece of good advice, if you are in serious trouble in Thailand, go to the Army, not the police for help. That principle is actually written into Thai law; if you lose your elephant, tell an Army officer and he is obliged to lend you some of his men to help you find it.

    Thaksin started to undermine all of the safeguards that were built into the Thai constitution. He had two primary tools to do this. One was pushing his supporters into the organizations that were supposed to prevent corruption and abuse of power. The other was to silence the opposition with libel writs. He actually said “Censorship? There is no need for censorship. If somebody opposes me my lawyers accuse him of libel and sue him for a hundred million baht. Now, everybody censors themselves.” He also started to take on the Army and the Monarchy. That’s when he made a major mistake.

    There had been rumors for years that Thaksin wanted the abolition of the Monarchy and during the 2004-2006 period, that became quite obvious. He disrespected the King on several occasions. Critically, when the 2006 military promotions and reshuffle list was made up, he took the list approved by the King and rewrote it to put his own supporters and family members in pretty much all of the key positions. That was a direct challenge to the King (not to mention a calculated insult to both the King and the Army) and it cost him everything. The Army decided to move and in September 2006, Thaksin was removed by a military coup. Once he had lost his power to issue libel suits at will, a mass of dirt started coming out. Basically the problem was that he couldn’t distinguish between his own private financial dealings and those of the state (under his doctrine of course there was no such difference). He had been using his position to massively enrich his family and himself. With the courts purged of his supporters who had blocked any previous investigations, he was accused of corruption on a massive scale – we’re talking billions. When his wife was found guilt of buying government assets at far below market price and then reselling them, he jumped bail and ran for it. He’s been in exile ever since.

    OK, that’s all background. Now, on to the riots in Bangkok. They actually started in Songkhran, 2009. Thaksin’s supporters tried a coup. Thaksin’s strategy appears to have been to use urban-style terrorism around key points in Bangkok so that Abhisit would be forced to declare a state of emergency. Then the military would be brought in to quash the UDD protesters. Thaksin and his advisors expected this would cause bloodshed and the situation would spiral out of control, creating a state of anarchy. Finally, the strategy went, Thaksin’s supporters would petition His Majesty the King for a royal intervention to end the crisis.

    Thaksin was probably inspired to try this approach by memories of Black May in 1992 where heavy-handed action by paramilitary personnel had indeed resulted in excessive violence and the eventual fall of the government. However, what Thaksin either forgot or (more likely) did not know was that the situation was very different than it had been in 1992. His assault resulted in 36 hours of fighting between Army troops, demonstrators and local residents that left two dead and 113 wounded. By the time the skirmishes had ended, the demonstrators were being driven back to a small area around Government house where about 2,000 members of the pro-Thaksin groups had retreated. The troops had been sent in under strict control and without heavy weapons. Most importantly, this time the civil population was wholeheartedly in support of the troops. A combination of firm but restrained action of the security forces and public repugnance for the level of violence used by the UDD won the day. Indeed, when UDD supporters threatened to set fire to an LPG truck in order to attack advancing troops, local residents formed a human shield to protect the soldiers.

    The consensus of opinion in Thailand is that the events of the Songkhran weekend eventually ended as a victory for Prime Minister Abhisit’s government, albeit by a desperately close margin. Thaksin’s personal profile never recovered from the debacle, and his standing as a viable political leader was more or less destroyed. Instead of being seen as a champion of “the people” against the Bangkok bureaucracy, he was perceived as a self-seeking power-hungry megalomaniac for whom those he had pretended to support were just pawns in his own pursuit of power and wealth.

    Thaksin and his supporters went back and rethought their strategy. They learned from Songkhran 2009 and Thaksin’s military advisor General Khattiya Sawasdipol created a special militia within the ranks of the Thaksinites, intended to prevent the Army from dispersing future riots. Cutting a long story short, the Thaksinites (now known as the red shirts) held a rally in Bangkok that started in mid-March 2010 and ended two months later. During that period, Khattiya’s militia ended one attempt by the Army to disperse them, Khattiya was killed by a sniper (it is still not clear who killed him), the red shirts moved to the business center of Bangkok and eventually were dispersed by the Army.

    So, who were the Red Shirts? Robert Amsterdam would have you believe they were poor but peaceful farmers who had come to the city to protest their poverty-stricken status. Actually no. They came to Bangkok because they were paid to come to Bangkok by Thaksin Shinawatra. Essentially, they were in it for the money, for the staggering BHT10 billion from offshore Thaksin accounts that were funding their demonstrations. The longer they demonstrated, the longer the influx of hard cash would continue. They also wanted an interim government that would pass a blanket amnesty to all the red shirt followers, including the black army gunmen who had opened fire on April 10. Since Thaksin had invested BHT10 billion, he would not accept anything less than a national government dominated by him. With the demonstrations achieving nothing more, they turned to widespread violence.

    That was the turning point in the history of this confrontation. The result was an immediate and rapid collapse of the red shirts’ public image, in Thailand if not in the international press. The latter, systematically misinformed by paid Thaksin lobbyists, largely backed the red shirts as a genuine movement of the poor against the Bangkok elite. The reds were looked upon by most Western media as champions of democracy against the military-installed Abhisit government. This comfortable, if entirely erroneous, worldview fell apart as red shirt thugs stormed a hospital, causing critically ill patients to be hurriedly evacuated. By this time, the general Thai public no longer bought the reds’ propaganda that they stood for any sort of democracy. They cared only about getting their patron into power regardless of the damage done to the people or economic conditions of the country. With tourist cancellations and business layoffs mounting as a result of the standoff, most Thais just wanted the government to remove the reds from the streets of Bangkok as quickly as possible. The coup de grace was when the government froze the assets of the high-profile names who had been providing financial support to the reds. The list showed that these individuals were part of the traditional business and political elites. The whole red shirt movement had been exposed for what it was: never a genuine movement for “democracy” or “the rights of the poor” but a band of mercenary foot soldiers in the battle between two opposing Bangkok factions.

    So, the statement that the riots were caused by income differences is quite wrong. The events between March and May 2010 were caused by a power struggle between two groups of Thai industrial-military-political complexes. One was the traditional power structure that saw power as being shared out between interested parties on a formula that included such things as popular support etc. The other was Thaksin supporters who wished to see all power concentrated into his hands and the opposition crushed completely. Once the Army had crushed the street demonstrators, they realized the game was up and they ran. Most are now in Cambodia, the balance are in Thai jails.

    Thaksin ruthlessly used the argument that Northerners in Thailand were oppressed and deprived of their just rewards as a justification for his moves. This is where an interesting outlook on the protest leaders comes into play. They are not poor; they come from neat, well-kept homes and own new pickup trucks and other amenities. They are actually making the transition into the middle class but see their aspirations for political influence commensurate with their economic standing blocked by both power groups. Their objective, verbalized by Thaksin as a political tool, was to gain influence with the Bangkok-based elites, not to eliminate them. After all, with Bangkok and its surrounding province still representing some 80 percent of Thailand’s GDP, complete replacement was not an option. It is this group that has realized that Thaksin is simply using them, and they wanted to come to a separate compromise that would not involve Thaksin at all. This was anathema to his most loyal supporters, including General Khattiya who may well have been shot by a red shirt moderate as a “message” to the Thai Army. There was no doubt that he was marked for death by the Army following his involvement in the death of a fellow Army officer, Colonel Romklao, on April 10. But it is beginning to look as if somebody else might have got him first. The general was hit in the right temple by a 7.62 x 51mm bullet that exited through the nape of his neck. Tracking the trajectory makes it look as if the bullet may have come from inside the red shirt compound. Also, Thai Army snipers are equipped with rifles that fire .338 Lapua Magnum rounds. If General Khattiya had been hit by one of those, he wouldn’t have had a head left let alone live for four days. So there is some reason to believe that he was killed as a result of his sabotage of a compromise agreement.

    There is a fascinating coda to this. a third party force is emerging (or rather re-emerging). A prominent Thai politician, Banharn Silpa-archa, whose political machine was devastated by the rise of Thaksin, has been working hard to rebuild his political party and following. He has a plethora of good things running in his favor: he has lots of money; he is among the second generation of leaders in Banharn’s family with real power; he has the ability to always land in a government coalition; and he has no taint of being Thaksin-connected. In recent weeks, he has been assiduously approaching Peau Thai politicians, suggesting that, since a Thaksin-proxy party would not be allowed to win again, it was time for Peau Thai MPs to carefully consider their positions, leave Peau Thai, and join his nascent party. This actually picks up the position that much needs to be done for the North. Although Thaksin used that as propaganda, a lot of people heard and liked it. Now, another party has picked it up but is pursuing it through normal Thai channels.

    It may well be that the re-emergence of Banharn Silpa-archa as a political power of note represents the way forward from the current situation. The recent violence in Bangkok is not unprecedented in Thailand; in fact, there is an outbreak of civil unrest about every 15 years or so. All that was unusual in the latest round was that it took place in the center of the city, not in the provinces or the outskirts of Bangkok. However, after such outbreaks, Thailand has a long history of quickly and aggressively integrating the disaffected parties back into the mainstream. Those who are prepared to abandon Thaksin and his campaign for rehabilitation will be absorbed into the political system and quite probably rise within it. A variety of criminal charges will be pursued against those who are not willing to distance themselves from Thaksin’s political goals and the more radical aims of the Red Shirt movement. Some who are charged will agree to cooperate in return for assurances of immediate probation. All of this is the typical way the Thai political system envelops and pacifies potential troublemakers. Justice, punishment, and the truth of the matter will always take a back seat to the mantra of unity.

    So, the final point. Why was Thaksin so desperate to get back into power in the early part of this year? Well, in August 2010, the next Thai Army reshuffle and promotions list was released. The key point about this reshuffle is that it has completely eliminated supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra from the military command structure. It was, of course, exactly this result that the prolonged demonstrations in Bangkok were intended to prevent. By bringing down the existing government, the leaders of the demonstration hoped to stop this reshuffle list and replace it with one that preserved and enhanced Thaksin’s influence. It is notable that with the failure of that strategy and the release of this reshuffle list, at least 15 members of Thaksin’s Puea Thai Party have resigned from that group and sought to join other political parties. This reshuffle list represents a major political defeat for Thaksin on a number of levels.

    However, of greater interest are the clues given within the list as to how the Thai Army sees the future of Thailand over the next four or five years. To understand the messages within the reshuffle list, it is necessary to look at the internal political structure of the Thai Army. Essentially, there are two groups: the Burapha Payak that is drawn from the field commanders and frontline unit commanders of the Army; and the Wong Thewan, which comprises the commanders in Bangkok who are part of powerful political families. These two groupings are often described as being cliques, but this indicates a level of hostility that does not exist. In fact, while the two groups are archrivals, relations between them are usually amicable. Essentially (albeit simplistically), the Burapha Payak are soldier-generals while the Wong Thewan are politician-generals.

    If the Army’s outlook for the next few years is essentially peaceful with no major threats on the horizon, the Wong Thewan dominate the reshuffle list. They are the experts at manipulating the political system to ensure that the Army gets the budgets it needs and its political requirements are met. If, on the other hand, the security outlook is seen as troubled, with internal and/or external threats developing, then the Burapha Payak dominate the reshuffle. These are the generals who tend to win where they fight. This year, the almost complete dominance of the reshuffle list by the Burapha Payak is a clear indication that the Thai Army does anticipate significant trouble in the near future.

    There is another implication as well. The Wong Thewan officers have been very active in past political movements and have, from time to time, been involved in military coups. In fact, the Wong Thewan have been the planning authority behind most Thai coups in the last half century. This is hardly surprising since they are the Army’s politicians. However, with this reshuffle list in place, only one senior officer is Wong Thewan; all the rest are Burapha Payak. This is a clear and intentionally reassuring message that a coup is not considered a likely prospect for the near future.

  11. I think the theme song for Would You Rather is a keeper. lol You guys seem to be getting more and more comfortable as you keep doing the show.

    We added a link to your guys’ show on our home page as well, because I have faith in you. I BELIEVE. Or … something.

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