11 July 2024

June 30, 2022: There has to be a lot of reading between the lines when latest comments of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus are concerned.

The director general of the World Health Organisation did not sound all doom and gloom about COVID-19 when he talked about it hours ago, although he stressed that cases are still on the rise in 110 countries and the main fast-spreading villains are two sub-variants of Omicron.

To sum up his views, humans have made progress in their fight against the coronavirus, but the progress has been still slow and they will have to play catch-up in the game. Lower-income countries are still struggling badly with vaccination, he emphasized.

“The pandemic is changing but it’s not over,” he said. “We have made progress but it’s not over. Hundreds of millions of people, including tens of millions of health workers and older people in lower-income countries remain unvaccinated, which means they are more vulnerable to future waves of the virus.”

Vaccine hoarding by rich countries was a serious problem last year, but key obstacles to vaccination now have been politics and disinformation this year, he added, reiterating that vaccination 70% of the population remains very crucial.

The remaining top challenge for humans, according to him, is to create a “pan-coronavirus” vaccine that can render all mutations, now and in the future, toothless. “Building on existing vaccines that limits severity and (minimizes death tolls) would be a major step forward,” he said.

Honing vaccines every time a new variant comes around is what humans are doing, and that probably makes sense, but it also means the coronavirus can always be one step ahead, he said.

If he was calling on superpowers to cooperate scientifically on vaccine development, it could be a tough ask. Splits are deepening between them.

He has toned down his criticism of booster shots, apparently because vaccines have become more available now. Previously, he decried boosters as the main reason why poor countries could not get enough vaccines.

June 29, 2022: At stakes are the reputations of the police, the conventional media and the social media. Whatever the outcome of the case that once obsessed Thailand, the three institutions stand to be affected, more or less.

Chaiphol Wipa is the key suspect in the 2020 mysterious death of a three-year-old child, but he has made millions selling beauty products online, sung on stages before wild crowds, took part in glamorous photo shoots and built a giant naga sculpture thanks to generous donations from his fan club.

Loong Phol is proclaiming innocence even now. He describes himself as a patsy, a claim which was initially amplified by the media and his supporters on the social media. Police insist Thailand’s most celebrated criminal suspect is truly responsible for the death of Nong Chompoo in Mukdahan. What is unclear is how his niece died _ abducted and abandoned, or accidentally killed and the scene where her body was found was staged to mislead investigators, or intentionally killed.

The trial, beginning on Thursday, will feature Chaipol’s inconsistent statements made to the police and on TV, his confusing timeline that nobody seems able to certify, forensic evidence that the defense lawyers question, and new technology rarely used in criminal investigation.

The suspect has suffered legal setbacks in related case because of his hot temperament and the locations of his naga sculptor, but he has escaped minor jail rulings and put on probation.

June 28, 2022: It’s easy to fight for democracy, but it’s much harder to really understand it, and the hardest thing of all is to really achieve it genuinely, according to a former deputy prime minister and high-profile Thammasat University alumnus.

In a speech marking Thammasat’s birthday anniversary earlier this week, Somkid Jatusripitak, a leading economist and business theorist, said the new generation was apparently on the right track, but may be oblivious to what it did not regard as an essential part of democracy.

A system where wealth is concentrated on perhaps one per cent of the population while the other 99 per cent are very far from the same kind of wealth is not democracy, but something similar to a dormant volcano that will explode later, he said.

It was good to jump from “four-second democracy”, in which voters only held the power at the ballot boxes, to “deliberative democracy”, in which the people have more opportunities to address day-to-day problems and possible solutions, he said. However, true democracy is a lot more than that, the man stressed.

“Looking ahead, a lot of new problems are presenting themselves. A struggle for democracy is necessary, but it may not be enough to build a solid foundation for our grandchildren’s future,” he said.

“There’s something beyond even the type of democracy that Thammasat people have fought for over the past 88 years. I don’t think any of us wants a ‘banana giveaway’ version of democracy, which is used only to seek or strengthen group or individual interests.

“And I don’t think Thammasat people want a democracy that enriches one per cent of the population, who own probably 60 per cent of the combined national wealth, whereas the other 99 per cent own only just over 30 per cent. I don’t think Thammasat people want a democracy designed to eventually create that kind of imbalance, which would only spark a major political crisis in the future.

“We all need to sit down and brainstorm. We must find a way to get there. Democracy belongs to all of the people, not just a few groups or a few families,” he said.

June 27, 2022: An opinion poll has been overwhelmingly pro-abortion, and Donald Trump has been reportedly too giddy following a pro-life Supreme Court decision. This, the US Democratic Party hopes, can turn the tide in its favour in America’s midterm election.

The Supreme Court’s historic decision is affecting millions of female lives in the United States, and has placed the country far behind the most “liberal” countries when it comes to abortion. Politics in the divided country has been more polarized because of that, but the ruling party _ which has been reeling against the ropes due to Joe Biden’s age, questionable decision-making and economic management _ is seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted over the weekend found that 59% of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision. That, analysts believe, should give Democrats a solid foundation to include women’s rights in the midterm elections campaign and the 2024 presidential race. But a big ask is how to make the issue overshadow high inflation and record gasoline prices that are threatening to doom the ruling party’s majorities in Congress.

Trump was basking in “victorious moments”. As crowds in Illinois chanted “Thank you Trump” on Saturday night, he proclaimed a “victory for life.” Privately though, Trump was said to be concerned about possible political setbacks as a result of the Supreme Court move.

June 26, 2022: The youngest daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra has been named the most favourable prime ministerial candidate in an opinion survey, ahead of both the Move Forward Party leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra received a 25.28% support from 2,500 people surveyed in the latest NIDA poll between June 20-23. The “undecided” group was the second biggest at 18.68%. Move Forward’s Pita Limjaroenrat was third at 13.24% and Prayut fourth at 11.68%.

Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew, remarkably, was a humble ninth at 2.92%. He was even lower than newly-elected Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt, who received 4.20%, and Kla Party leader Korn Chatikavanij (3.76%) but good news is that the Pheu Thai leader was in front of both Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit who got 1.56% and Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul who received 1.52%.

The survey results seem to heavily favour the opposition bloc. Paetongtarn’s backing doubled from the previous survey which gave her 12.53%. Support for Pita was virtually unchanged whereas Prayut’s declined slightly from 12.67%.

June 25, 2022: Abortion rights have suffered a heavy and massive blow in the United States following a historic Supreme Court decision, and even President Joe Biden has bemoaned it.

The court has overturned abortion rights in the latest development in a long and high-profile legal battle known as “Roe v Wade”. It’s a rare reversal of a legal norm that will fracture, if not upend, reproductive rights in America and affect millions of women.

To many, it must have added insult to injury. The bombshell followed another fresh Supreme Court decision that many say has opened the door for almost all law-abiding Americans to carry concealed and loaded handguns in public, a ruling that even some US politicians deemed “reckless”, or “shameful”, or “reprehensible”, or “outrageous”, or all of them.

Simply put, guns have been promoted, and women’s rights have been demoted.

The Supreme Court’s “Roe v Wade” decision is, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “such an insult, a slap in the face to women.” Biden was equally gloomy.

“The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk,” he said. “It’s a sad day for the court and for the country.” The president added that many women would now live under a “dark shadow.”

Major protests have erupted outside the courthouse and across the country. Swaths of the south and Midwest are now expected to either ban abortion out right or impose severe restrictions, possibly forcing women to travel hundreds of miles or seek unsafe or self-manage abortions.

It all began in 1969 when Norma McCovey, known by the legal pseudonym “Jane Roe” became pregnant with her third child and wanted an abortion. A state-versus-federal-government controversy erupted and the Supreme Court ruled in her favour. That court action upheld constitutional values but left some ambiguity to set the stage for what would a lingering showdown between pro- and anti-abortion camps.

June 24, 2022: A newly-signed “announcement” by the new Bangkok governor designated areas where political protests should take place, and it will not go down well with activists and demonstrators who wouldn’t want their movement to be “too much” restricted.

The announcement, signed by newly-elected Chadchart Sittipunt, declares seven well-known areas including “Laan Khon Muang” of the Phra Nakhon District, the Thai-Japanese Youth Center and the Chalermprakiat sport center in Min Muri as “suitable” for protests. It also mentions possible action by the authorities if demonstrators in those venues turn disorderly.

The announcement does not say protesters “must” go to those areas, but how it was written suggests they should, for the sake of “safety, orderliness, public health, public convenience and respect for other people’s rights.”

“Mobs must check this out,” says a news website’s headline.

June 23, 2022: Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s latest attack on America and its allies is not unexpected, but it is worrisome all the same as it is taking place amid the fast deterioration in superpowers’ relationships.

Speaking at a business forum ahead of a virtual summit with leaders from major emerging economies, he decried sanctions as “weaponizing” the global economic and called for unity to cope with global challenges.

Here are parts of his speech, as reported by CNN: “The tragedies of the past tell us that hegemony, group politics and bloc confrontation bring no peace or security; they only lead to wars and conflicts.

“The Ukraine crisis is another wake-up call for all in the world. It reminds us that blind faith in the so-called ‘position of strength’ and attempts to expand military alliances and seek one’s own security at the expense of others will only land oneself in a security dilemma.”

He said Western sanctions were double-edged-sword penalties that weaponized the global economy and would “bring harm to the people of the world.”

Here’s what CNN said: “The comments appeared to be a veiled reference to the United States and NATO, whom Beijing repeatedly blamed for provoking Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.”

June 22, 2022: Democracy is good, but it requires “mutual toleration” as the crucial safety net, without which the system will crumble to the ground and America is in danger of being an Exhibit A of an ironic failure, according to a veteran Thai politician.

In a Facebook post, former deputy prime minister Trairong Suwankhiri said two things have held American democracy outstandingly _ the concept of “the opposite side” being regarded as “the rival”, not “the enemy”; and the sacred principle of refraining from political hate and revenge which are normally caused by extreme jealousy.

The two are related, and America had been able to respect and observe the rules until the attitudes of the Republican and Democratic parties toward Donald Trump changed everything. Mutual toleration is scarce now, the “other side” has been deemed “the enemy” and political activities both on the streets and in the Congress have been dictated a lot by hateful and revengeful motives, Trairong said.

That how democracy dies, because the only way to get an enemy out of the way will require one or more undemocratic methods, like using media lies, or state persecution, or state muffling of opinions or abusing “majority” strength in Parliament.

“When the safety net is no more, anarchy can replace democracy,” Trairong said.

If he sounds like he was criticising America, his actual motive, apparently, is to warn Thai people.

June 21, 2022: Tens of thousands of people have marched in the European Union heartland to protest what they described as an unbearable rise in the cost of living, a situation the Russian media link to what is supposed to be retaliation against the “invasion of Ukraine.”

While the western media have been careful not to relate economic sufferings of the protesters to sanctions against Russia too much, their Russian counterparts have claimed what was missing in western news stories were such banners as “Spend money on wages, not weapons” and “NATO, stop it”.

The protest involved a large number of Belgian workers marching through Brussels on Monday demanding that the government take immediate action to tackle sharply rising living cost. Strikes at Brussels Airport and on local transport networks nationwide also brought public travel to a near-halt, agencies reported, with some suggesting that it was a one-day disruption.

Labour unions, which played instrumental roles in organising the march, said about 80,000 participated, large enough to draw western media attention. Police put the figure at 70,000.

Belgian inflation has hit 9% in June, mirroring sharp rises elsewhere driven primarily by the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on supply chains and negative consequences of trade sanctions that sent energy and commodity prices skyrocketing.

June 20, 2022: The French elections are causing instability and unpredictability as well as giving basically everybody tough challenges. But most of all, an old lesson is being taught, about what fragmented vote, not-so-united political landscape and poor economy can do.

President Emmanuel Macron had seemed to be a sure bet not so long ago, having won re-election convincingly, but his preoccupation with Ukraine allowed economic sufferings among his own people to be used as ammunition by his opponents. To add to that, a lot of voters chose to stay home, ministers losing elections may be forced to resign, and votes have spread among France’s political parties with probably different ideologies.

He will need either long-term or short-term (case-by-case) alliances to ensure enough parliamentary support for bills and key policies. The elections’ results took away his camp’s absolute majority control of Parliament, an “unprecedented” crisis that would require a lot of “imagination” to address.

Now, smaller parties can play kingmakers. For the first time in 20 years, a newly-elected French president has failed to win an absolute majority in Parliament, and they will make the most of that. They can either gang up to try to overthrow him straightaway, or they will make demands that muddy ideological differences in the country.

June 19, 2022: Short, clear, correct and repeated messages teaching, warning and advising people about what they can do, cannot do, should do and should never do when it comes to cannabis have to be one of the first priorities of the media.

That was one of the top demands made by participants, academics and experts at a praiseworthy radio programme this weekend as confused Thailand continues to grapple with freer cannabis rules. Politics is making the overall picture more chaotic.

TV must run such crisp and useful texts at the bottom of the screen on loop twenty four hours a day. Websites should find a prominent space on the home pages to flash similar messages, probably one or two at a time daily. A official LINE account must send out such warnings and advisories repeatedly.

Something like that. People need to know in short, clear language what they can do and cannot do, should do and shouldn’t do. If the legitimate media and the government don’t take the initiative, somebody else with poorer knowledge will, using probably false information with very bad consequences.

“There has been too much confusion and 10 people interviewed are probably giving 10 different opinions,” one man said during the radio programme. “What the general public need is short, very constant, correct and informative messages in prominent places like specific places on the TV screen and website home pages.”

June 18, 2022: According to the Russian leader, the “era of the unipolar world” has ended. It was his latest, and very strong, no-holds-barred verbal attack on the United States and its allies.

In a combative speech that lambasted Western countries at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday, Putin said: “When they won the Cold War, the US declared themselves God’s own representatives on earth, people who have no responsibilities — only interests. They have declared those interests sacred. Now it’s one-way traffic, which makes the world unstable.”

Ukraine was the United States’ big, heaven-sent gift, allowing the western alliance to blame everything on Russia, he said. The prelude in his remark to that criticism was no less harsh.

“They live in the past on their own under their own delusions … They think that … they have won and then everything else is a colony, a back yard. And the people living there are second-class citizens,” he said, adding that Russia’s “special operation” — the phrase the Russian authorities use to describe its war on Ukraine — has become a “lifesaver for the West to blame all the problems on Russia.”

He said it was okay for Ukraine to join the European Union, which, unlike NATO, is not a military bloc. A decision to join EU shall be respected, he said.

June 17, 2022: The smiles and cordiality had been expected, so the new Bangkok governor’s first official return to the Government House in years could be like the first round of a general boxing match, when the fighters do nothing but dance and jab the air ceremonially.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Bangkok Governor Chadchart Sittipunt were extremely polite and friendly toward each other. They could have been extra-careful knowing that every remark would be put under the media microscope. They did a good job pledging cooperation on general affairs and specifically the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I’m your guide,” Prayut told Chadchart while at a newly-built building. Former minister Chadchart, not a stranger to the Government House himself, greeted many old friends and commented that many things have changed.

Chadchart was accompanied by Poramase Ngampiches who had won the mayoral election in Pattaya. Both men will play important roles in ensuring that the remaining or eased COVID-19 rules are strictly respected. They were introduced to and joined a meeting of the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration, which decided that entertainment venues selling alcoholic drinks can open until 2 am starting July 1.

Nobody talked about skytrain, though, because it’s a common knowledge that the Cabinet wants one thing and Chadchart wants another.

June 16, 2022: The Public Health Ministry and other authorities could soon consider allowing pubs and other entertainment places like karaoke bars to open one or two hours more.

Here’s the MAIN condition: If approved, the new closing time must be strictly obeyed.

“As long as pub owners respect the rules and people don’t drink the night away, we won’t object,” said Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. But he stressed that the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration would be consulted.

The whole country will now be “green”, meaning monitoring will still be required, he said, but reiterating his earlier statement that the situation was improving. The minister also repeated that there would be no official announcement on the easing of mask-wearing requirement, but health authorities’ advice was that Thais should keep the masks on, and removal would be up to individuals’ rational judgement.

June 15, 2022: The new Bangkok governor is torn between the fiery nature of anti-government demonstrations and his earlier and current pledges to make the Thai capital as “orderly” as possible.

Anti-government protests tend to descend into disorder, with the authorities and activists blaming each other for frequent, sometimes violent, chaos. Chadchart Sittipunt’s election campaign vow to find venues for protests did not go down well with many activists, and some of them even said that the state designating areas for anti-government activities smelled dictatorial.

Protests are erupting again in Bangkok after his election win and the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, and Chadchart is finding himself in a big dilemma. A big portion of his election victory can be attributed to anti-government votes, but, as the Bangkok governor, he is wearing a hat that could pit him against them.

The easy part is an interview he gave on Tuesday. “It’s a beautiful thing that people come out to express their opinions,” he said. “As to the question of where, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (will propose) alternative sites where it will be convenient, safer and good for the traffic. We are not saying protesters must go there. We are giving them alternatives.”

The hard part is yet to come, but seems around the corner.

June 14, 2022: Some people have suggested that Google’s Artificial Intelligence is approaching sentience, a proposition that the giant tech company virtually is laughing at.

It all began like in a movie. A Google engineer suspected that some algorithms were knowing and doing too much and he said so in an interview. Few believed him and Google was quick to issue a statement to calm down alarmists. The firm was also backed by many who said that the ability to complete, or change for the better, sentences was no where near acquired consciousness.

The Google engineer, who claimed he would be in big trouble at his job, said that after hundreds of interactions with a cutting edge, unreleased AI system called LaMDA, he believed the program had achieved a level of self aware. LaMDA stands for “Language Model for Dialog Applications” that can respond to written prompts. Such systems have become science-fiction-movie good at answering questions and writing in ways that may convince you that you are conversing with another human.

Google itself presented LaMDA last May in a blog post as one that can “engage in a free-flowing way about a seemingly endless number of topics.” It’s not perfect yet, of course, but the alarmists say our grandfathers would have laughed at the idea of a mobile phone all the same, let alone the fact that everyone of their children will carry to schools a device packed with much more computing power than an Apollo-era spacecraft.

In a recent statement, Google admitted that scientists’ dream of achieving greater AI exists, but strongly asserted that it’s absolutely wrong and unfair to put the company’s current innovations at such a high or scary level. After all, the company operates under strict ethical standards prescribed by both itself and monitoring experts.

It’s a well-thought-out response to calm down fears. Humans must have written that. Or did they?

June 13, 2022: The Bhumjaithai Party’s bombardment of lawsuits on newscaster M.L. Nattakorn Devakula could, with a great political undertone, revive debate on the pros and cons of cannabis “legalization”.

Due to Nattakorn’s political involvement and the fact that the major easing of restrictions regarding cannabis is a Prayut government initiative, the nationwide lawsuits filed against him will almost certainly trigger a “political” rather than scientific showdown.

The unlocking of some restrictions has been criticised by some but Nattakorn’s wordings were described by Bhumjaithai, the most instrumental in formulating the government policy, as being too biased and too far. The party says it’s not happy because the way he said it sounded like Thai youngsters would be “fooled” into becoming drug addicts.

“It’s good that he has come out to apologise,” said Bhumjaithai MP Supachai Jaisamut. “The media can always scrutinise policies, but what he had said was one-sided, unfair and involved lies. Measures have actually been in place to protect youngsters. He said nothing about that.”

One of the most effective ways to counter what is perceived as defamation is filing lawsuits in all provinces that the contentious information could have reached. The suspects will then be forced to travel all over the country to acknowledge charges. They can ask for the charges to be assembled as one, but it’s not up to them. Bhumjaithai politicians, for example, can argue that Nattakorn’s “misleading” statements affect them or the party differently in each constituency.

He has said sorry, but Supachai strongly suggested the lawsuits would not be withdrawn.

June 12, 2022: One American news outlet says what is happening is “thrusting the Middle East into uncharted waters”, but, in fact, it’s the whole world that would be thrusted into uncharted waters.

Iran, it has been reported, could be very extremely close to acquiring an ability to make nuclear weapons, if the country is not there already.

According to CNN, Tehran has ramped up uranium enrichment at a pace not seen since the 2015 signing of a landmark deal to curb the activity in exchange for sanctions relief. Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018.

In addition to the rising enrichment activity, Iran a few days ago switched off surveillance cameras used by the international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, to monitor its key nuclear facilities. The absence of monitoring footages, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi warned, could deal a “fatal blow” to negotiations that seek to bring the old limitations back.

US President Joe Biden tried to revive the negotiations when he took office, but he has been largely unsuccessful and Iran has steadily upped the ante in its activities.

Experts believe it’s a question of when, not if. International attention has been firmly on Russia and China lately, but one of the world’s eyes must be turning to Tehran. Included in a CNN analytical report was a jaw-dropping sentence which said that after economically clippling sanctions and secretive plots targeting individuals have failed to deter Iran, it “may lead the US and its allies to consider pursuing a military option.”

June 11, 2022: What US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said in Singapore is not a direct response to leading Thai activist Jatuporn Prompan’s criticism hours earlier, but it sort of addressed a few questions people have in mind about Washington, Beijing and Taiwan.

Austin, according to CNN, called out China “for a series of coercive, aggressive and dangerous actions that threaten stability around Asia” and vowed the United States would stand by partners to resist any pressure. It seemed like a response to an open letter Jatuporn and a group of Thai activists publicised on Friday that called out America for exactly what Austin is accusing China of doing.

“Indo-Pacific countries shouldn’t face political intimidation, economic coercion, or harassment by maritime militias,” Austin said in a keynote speech to the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier defense conference taking place in Singapore.

He accused China of threatening to “undermine security, and stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.”

June 10, 2022: A small alliance between a former Red Shirt leader and an anti-government group against what they describe as an ill intention of the United States to force Thailand’s hand over the Taiwan issue is remarkable.

Jatuporn Prompan joined hands with the Prachachon Khonthai (Thai People) group, which had called for dissolution of the Palang Pracharath Party and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation, in publicizing an open letter to US President Joe Biden. The protesters’ strongly-worded letter accused Washington of interfering maliciously with Thailand’s political affairs and trying to drag Thailand into an international flashpoint concerning the status of Taiwan and that country’s confrontation with China.

The open letter said several US actions indicated attempts to suppress and influence Thailand which would turn Bangkok against other countries in disregard for Thais’ freedom and sovereignty.

Such US actions, it is alleged in the open letter, were malicious manipulation designed to pit Thailand against enemies that the United States created for itself. The letter demanded that Washington sincerely and genuinely respected Thailand’s sovereignty “like the United States wants to be treated by other countries” and refrained from interfering with Thailand’s political, monarchial, diplomatic and economic affairs.

In his interview, which suggested local politics might be playing a part, Jatuporn also attacked the Prayut government for having signed an agreement with the United States that seemed to tilt Thailand’s supposed neutrality in Asia Pacific. With the Taiwan tension rising, such an agreement is dangerous because it could oblige Thailand to do something it does not want to in the future, according to the open letter.

Jatuporn’s political track records, it has to be said, were plagued with inconsistencies, meaning he could say something today and downplay it tomorrow, if not making a complete U-turn.

June 9, 2022: Russia and America have been engaged in a serious propaganda warfare, so “official statements” of any kind should be taken with a grain of salt. The world, however, certainly is waiting for Washington’s response to the latest salvo from its arch-enemy. According to a high-ranking Russian politician, the United States’ oil import ban is a big, hypocritical joke.

Russia’s State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has posted that the ban on energy supplies from Russia announced by US President Joe Biden and data from the Energy Information Administration of the US Department of Energy contradicted each other badly. The Russian politician, a vocal anti-American mouthpiece in his country, claimed the recent EIA information showed that in March, way into the Russia-Ukraine war, oil supplies from Russia almost doubled in America compared to February, from 2.325 million barrels to 4.218 million barrels.

According to the chairman of the State Duma, Russia now has been the sixth of the largest oil suppliers to America. This has been happening, he claimed, while “Washington made the EU states impose sanctions against Russia and not receive Russian energy resources.”

It’s an explosive charge that could send reporters rushing to EIA, whose website is highly complex and technical, making ones wonder how Vyacheslav Volodin got his information, which has been shown in Russia’s parliamentary records.

June 8, 2022: Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul’s statement about mask wearing may help some people but worry others including health experts.

“Judge for yourself” is apparently his main message when asked if there will be an official announcement on the issue. He implied that, unless things change, there would be no announcement.

“Whether and when you should wear it or remove it depends on the situation,” he said. “If, say, you are meeting five or six friends and all of you have been ATK safe and none of you has gone to a soccer match to mingle with tens of thousands of people or visited a pub, then you may be able to chat and eat without masks.”

This might make experts frown. The said “small party” people could have used mass transit on their way to meet friends, for example. They may have gone to a crowded 7/11 just before the party. Or they could have been to a department store and involved in some grand-sale hustle on that day. In short, there are too many grey areas for comfort.

Ambiguity would give people excuses, it is warned. Authorities saying or suggesting masks are no longer necessary can lead to a complacency slippery slope, many fear.

“I think the majority of Thais would want to keep the masks on no matter what the government says,” a radio commentator remarked. “But there must be those who couldn’t wait to leave them at home.”

Mask-wearing is said to be one of the most-important measures during the pandemic. While the coronavirus has appeared less deadly lately, infection remains highly possible and nobody has guaranteed that the disease has become tame for good.

Even Anutin, who sounded upbeat about Thailand’s “improving situation”, in which the number of daily infection has been seen to dip below 3,000 and daily death tolls have been below 30, suggested the government recommended the continuity of mask-wearing. “If it’s not too much of a problem, keep it on,” he said. That, however, may only add to the ambiguity.

June 7, 2022: One of the world’s richest men is being accused of trying to find an excuse that can help him walk away from a plan to purchase Twitter. Elon Musk, however, could in fact be bringing up an issue that has long been an elephant in the room.

Everyone knows “bots” _ or fake and multiple accounts _ have been plaguing the social media, but the public do not quite know whether it’s a pandemic level or something that they shall not be worried about. After all, the social media have been playing an increasingly significant part in politics all over the world.

By asking Twitter how many bots it actually has, Musk may be drawing attention to a problem that seemed minuscule a few years ago but is worrisome nowadays. In other words, he may be doing the right thing for his own financial good, as the more “bot” accounts Twitter has, the cheaper the platform’s actual price.

What Musk’s apparently good relationship with Donald Trump, banned by Twitter when the latter was president of the United States but now in the process of completing his own social media platform, has to do with the latest development is anyone’s guess.

June 6, 2022: After they breached the “Great Wall of China” on Sunday, Thailand’s female volleyball players have cemented a sensation they created in Turkey.

The thrilling victory at the Volleyball Nations League triggered some kind of a fever rarely seen in women’s team sports, with social media users all over the world and in Asean in particular heaping praises on the Thai girls, cherishing their fighting spirits, in-game and on-the-bench demeanours and characteristic giggles or smiles that were regularly seen even when opponents pushed them against the ropes.

The five-set comeback win against China featured a long period of Chinese domination which was due to the Chinese players’ obvious physical advantages. It followed the Thai girls’ triumphs over Bulgaria and Serbia and a very narrow _ some may say unlucky _ five-set loss against Belgium. Most of Thai opponents are major powers in world volleyball.

The new-generation Thai girls remain underdogs in the competition, having to play a few more superpowers, but, from foreign comments, they are a breath of fresh air. “This is Thailand’s first real dance on the world stage,” a foreign volleyball fan said on Twitter.

Absolutely remarkable have been lead striker Pimpichaya Kokram and all-rounder Ajcharaporn Kongyot but the whole team is a star, and rightly so.

June 5, 2022: Has the Prayut administration demonstrated an ability to survive on the ropes? It could be a “Yes” or a “No”. But, either way, it probably does not matter much.

“Yes” because a mini Pheu Thai rebellion shows glimpses of how it can be done next time, or even before the crucial general election. “No” because many opposition MPs naturally wanted the Budget Bill to pass, and it will be a totally different game during, say, censure.

To add to that, the coalition government surviving a few more months may not mean much if it is to lose power in the next general election. The widely-expected Budget Bill victory can be a small morale boosting incident for the government, but nothing more and nothing less.

June 4, 2022: The Bangkok governor-elect needs around 30 days to solve some trouble that his predecessor got stuck in, and a possible solution may hinge on whether or where he could find tens of billions of baht.

The money, needed to pay off a huge debt so that the state will get back bargaining power, is not only the important thing, though. Chadchart Sittipunt’s problems are intertwined between what he said during his gubernatorial election campaign and the power of the Interior Ministry that can force his hand.

In his latest interview over the weekend, Chadchart Sittipunt seemed as adamant as ever that Bangkok commuters should pay less for skytrain, but he noticeably admitted that complexities existed in the contract situation between the state and the concessionaire.

He doesn’t want the concession to be extended, but his predecessor had his hands tied because massive debts owed to the private operator gave the company the upper hand in negotiations. Chadchart has said that it “should” be easier for his agency to get financial help as it works for public interests, but the fact that he said “should” meant he was not too sure about getting the money himself.

“Give me one month to study all the necessary details (regarding sources of money and the authority of the BMA and the City Assembly),” he said.

If Chadchart can overcome the first obstacle of getting the operator to agree on cheap fees, he still has a mountain to climb regarding the bigger picture. He wants the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to virtually take over the mass transit system in the capital, and from his interviews, he appears to want to see the BMA have more control, which could pit him against the Interior Ministry.

One sign of what could transpire in the future comes from Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who, when asked if the Cabinet, prompted by the Interior Ministry, could override a BMA proposal, said: “Of course. When state budget is concerned, the Cabinet has the right to think about the money aspect.” He was quickly to add, though, that the Cabinet would value the BMA’s opinions.

June 3, 2022: The whole Johnny Depp-Amber Heard legal affair _ their testimonies, the battle of the attorneys, the cameras, the noisy fans, a packed courtroom in full glare of partisan viewers internally and externally, the vociferous social media _ looked like gladiators fighting without the swords, watched on by spectators clamouring for blood.

That is what Heard’s lawyer suggested as she lamented what she called elements that had “confused” the jury. “I think some of it had to do with the amount of social media that was involved, the cameras in the courtroom,”  Elaine Charlson Bredehoft said. “The fact that they had 100 … fans in there every day, it was like coliseum as opposed to a dignified courtroom. I think all of those things had a negative influence here that caused this to be much more challenging and much more difficult.”

She implied the overall chaos resulted in a ruling that many interpreted as a Depp “victory”. Whether she was right or wrong there, she was correct in saying that the complete disorder should not have happened during a “justice” process.

June 2, 2022: Everyone is monitoring the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, which is understandably normal. That everyone wants to have an opinion about it is also normal. But when people who have no idea what went on exactly between the couple in their most private moments made death threats against them, or insulted them, or jeered at them, it’s way too far.

The verdict, like most verdicts, is hopefully right and fair. Outsiders, however, have to respect the possibility that something might not have come out during the trial, that the jury might have overlooked something, or that personal and intimate relationships differ from one couple to another.

The social media, which have virtually harassed both Depp and Heard, need to keep in mind that many times, things are not what they seem, that people playing victims is the oldest trick in the history of mankind, and that the most taunted ones can be the innocent ones.

#MeToo was difficult to get started. It has been rocky already and the virtual #UsToo attitude of the social media is not helping.

June 1, 2022: Ukraine is getting increasingly desperate. America, therefore, is having increasingly limited options and has chosen to provide military equipment that counts. Moscow, predictably, is increasingly furious with Washington. The world, as a result, is increasingly edgy.

News agencies have reported that Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told state news agency RIA Novosti that Moscow views the latest US military assistance to Ukraine “extremely negatively”.

Ryabkov, Reuter said, singled out widely-reported US plans to supply Kyiv with its High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), a multiple rocket launcher system that boasts a very far range.

“Attempts to present the decision as containing an element of ‘self-restraint’ are useless,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying. “The fact that the United States, at the head of a group of states, is engaged in a purposeful pumping of weapons into the Kyiv regime is an obvious thing.”

CNN quoted American officials as saying that HIMARS could be equipped with munitions that would allow Ukraine to launch rockets about 80 kilometers (49 miles).

The US plans followed harsh criticism against the West by the embattled Ukrainian leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky, who suggested western leaders were full of anti-war rhetoric but in fact were afraid of directly crossing Russia.

Reacting to reported arrival of HIMARS, Zelensky said Ukraine would not use it in Russian territory, which he said he was not interested in one bit. “We are not fighting on their territory,” he said.

It’s good for the world to hear that, but only just.



Daily update of local and global events by Tulsathit Taptim