21 May 2024

March 31, 2023: The United States has crossed the line, and what lies ahead is a bad, lose-lose situation.

Before Donald Trump, no sitting or former president had ever been criminally indicted. That means one of the two things _ the presidency was rightly dignified because at its foundations was a political system said to be unblemished and the greatest example to the rest of the world, or the volcano was simply active but dormant.

Now, that dignity has been shattered. And America can join the likes of Thailand where Thaksin Shinawatra is either innocent but persecuted by a weaponized justice system, or always enjoyed delayed proceedings or got off some hooks thanks to the fact that he is rich and powerful.

Trump is the same. And more so because his thinking, policies and business involvement affected things that were massive and went far beyond the US borders. Now, when the president of the United States, say, calls for a boycott of a Chinese product, that traditional sacredness of that call is gone. If there had been doubts before, the skepticism can deepen greatly now.

Domestically, as one analyst puts it, the prosecution and its aftermath “are likely to consume America’s already poisoned politics, threaten to rock yet another presidential election and may pose the most critical challenge yet to its system of justice.” The same analyst pointed out that the “last remaining restraint has been crushed”, suggesting no-holds-barred attacks on the presidency can be expected from rivals from now on. Yet if the targeted presidents or former presidents are proven guilty, the justice system will be called into question over how they had been protected more than ordinary citizens, the analyst said.

It looks like Trump’s indictment is coming at a very huge price.

March 30, 2023: Fears of charges of unethical conducts may be the key reason why the biggest political party does not seem to abide by the “democratic” principle that the prime minister should be an MP.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra and Srettha Thavisin are not in Pheu Thai’s reported party list and they are not running in constituency elections either. This means that if one of them is to become prime minister, the principle will not be honoured although Pheu Thai is presenting itself as a major advocate of democracy.

But it’s “safer” this way. Paetongtarn and Srettha will be protected all the way until they are needed as prime ministerial candidates. Currently, neither is in Pheu Thai’s board, which would have put them under ethical scrutiny immediately.

“There’s no need for Pheu Thai to rush and get an immediate scrutiny,” said Jatuporn Prompan, former red-shirt leader who has turned into one of the most vocal critics of Pheu Thai. Being an MP or election candidate may risk violating constitutional standards if you are a business person with more assets, transactions and other controversial records than you can remember. Examples have been all aplenty about politically-unethical deeds emerging to haunt some politicians big time.

Paetongtarn and Srettha are more than familiar with property development, a business where debatable or “grey area” practices are abundant, Jatuporn noted. At present, those practices can be forgettable as far as they are concerned, but once they enter the corridors of political power, things can be totally different.

One big reminder can be grim for Paetongtarn and Srettha. Thaksin Shinawatra was convicted for violating constitutional rules that prohibited political office holders from doing business transactions with the state. Property development, as we know, involves a lot of interconnections from the ground up.

Also, that Thaksin needed to sell his highly-lucrative telecom empire says a lot about the intensity of political, legal and constitutional scrutiny.

March 29, 2023: Everyone knows that artificial intelligence (AI) will replace a lot of human work, but exactly how much and how soon can be massively jaw-dropping.

According to a recent report by investment bank Goldman Sachs, quoted by the BBC, AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs. It could perform a quarter of work tasks in the US and Europe. How soon is harder to predict, but it’s got to be sooner rather than later because technologies are pushing in every direction.

Many scientists, having looked at the trend of technological advancement, warn the change could be exponential. In other words, unbelievably fast.

Crude robots on wheels are being seen as cute things at restaurants, but wait until each restaurant only needs to hire one human employee. Journalists are relying on AI chats to write what looks like well-researched articles, but truth is that, with a few tweaks, the AI can write the articles totally by themselves. Cars will drive themselves, and much more safely than humans do it.

The report noted that AI’s impact will not be the same for different sectors. It may impact 46% of tasks in administrative and 44% in legal professions could be automated but only 6% in construction 4% in maintenance. And all signs are that even human artists are not safe, although it will come relatively more slowly.

It’s not all gloomy. The Goldman Sachs report said AI could force humans to find new jobs and it could even lead to a productivity boom. The report estimated that AI could eventually increase the total annual value of goods and services produced globally by 7%.

Generative AI, able to create content indistinguishable from human work, is “a major advancement”, the BBC quoted the report as saying.

To a certain extent, we have been there before. The report cited some research that said 60% of workers are in now occupations that did not exist in 1940.

March 28, 2023: Among the few people keeping tabs on how many times Thaksin Shinawatra has announced he would return to Thailand must be Jatuporn Prompan.

The latest one is Thaksin’s 18th, according to the activist, who doesn’t believe him.

“I’m confident that, after the May 14 election, the most we can see is the man appearing here and there in a neighbouring country,” Jatuporn said. He also noted that just two days after telling Kyodo unequivocally that he would come back home regardless of Pheu Thai’s election results, Thaksin toned down his “promise” significantly.

According to Jatuporn, in just two days, Thaksin went from saying he was definitely going back to Thailand after the election even if that meant he was going straight to jail to elaborating that he would “some day” return to Thailand.

“There’s a big difference there,” Jatuporn said.

He added that being able to come home without going to prison was a big deal for Thaksin, and it was the main cause of many problems affecting Thailand and the red shirts over the years. “The latest vow has just one aim, which is to gain votes,” Jatuporn said.

The activist also repeated his criticism of the Pheu Thai Party’s election strategy, saying asking voters to cast both ballots (constituency candidates and popular vote) for it would badly affect its allies, particularly Move Forward.

Pheu Thai, said Jatuporn, keeps telling voters that supporting constituency candidates of one party while casting the popular vote for another could make them (the current opposition parties) “die all.”

At the moment, Jatuporn said, a “curious logic” of the hour is that if four men walk through a desert with just one piece of bread, sharing it would only lead to slow deaths of them all, so the whole bread should be given to just one man. This way at least one man would survive and arrive at the destination.

This thinking is reflective of “selfish” Thaksin, who can only be “ruler” and not “leader”, Jatuporn charged.

March 27, 2023: If Exhibit A of how politics can misrepresent justice is in Thailand, Israel is not that far-off from the unenviable status at the moment.

Major protests are rocking the middle eastern country against the government’s judicial reform plan, which could face a major U-turn with the political crisis apparently spiralling out of control, gaining worldwide attention

The crux of the matter is how much the government should control the judiciary. In other words, how “independent” the judges should be.

The Israeli government wants to take full control over the committee which appoints judges. Parliament would also intervene in legal affairs at the highest level.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the changes will stop the courts over-reaching their powers, but critics say they will help him as he faces an ongoing trial for corruption.

The politically popular words “Threat to democracy” have been used, and some of those who used them think judges’ “lesser independence” does not bode well for transparency and justice which are the main elements of democracy. The Israeli government is now under immense pressure to either abandon the plan or make drastic compromises.

March 26, 2023: The pledge by the man in Dubai to return to Thailand and be jailed “no matter what happens” to Pheu Thai in the next election may be a political strategy designed to help the political party.

Supporters are saying that there is nothing wrong for Thaksin Shinawatra to miss his family and the country to the point of deciding that “enough is enough”. Skeptics are saying that he didn’t have to announce it weeks before a crucial election because a virtually-unconditional plan to end his exile could be carried out any time, and not hyped up at a politically sensitive moment.

One major political doubt affecting Pheu Thai is that it could use new-found political power to facilitate his return, so Thaksin may be wanting to nip that criticism in the bud. The announcement of unconditional return could help him and the party internationally as well.

But it could also backfire, because while a large number of Thais may want him to come back, a lot others remain in the opposite camp. To feature in Pheu Thai-related news when the election campaign is approaching a fever pitch is always a big risk. The party, after all, was doing quite well without him vowing to return to the divided Thailand.

A better scenario for the homesick Thaksin, the skeptics say, requires him to wait until the election is over and come home unceremoniously to face the prison sentence. This way, Pheu Thai will not be affected. His daughter will not be affected. And, last but not least, Thai politics can hopefully evolve without him as the controversial element.

March 25, 2023: Maybe a more proper question is whether or not it will be good for his own daughter, especially if she has a big role in the next government.

Thaksin Shinawatra has told a Japanese media network he would definitely return to Thailand no matter how Pheu Thai fared in the next election, provided that he was not barred from his family. (That condition is strange because even convicts in serious crimes, no matter how poor or “powerless”, are accorded rights to family visits. If Thaksin had been in a Thai jail, he would have seen his family more than he had been able to staying in Dubai.)

He told Kyodo News:  “Now I’ve served 16 years already in the big jail because they prevent me from staying with my family. I’ve suffered enough. If I were to suffer again in the smaller jail, it is OK.”

He added: “It is not really the price I need to pay but I pay because I want to stay with my grandchildren. I should spend the rest of my life with my children and my grandchildren.”

It did sound unequivocal. Yet Thaksin has tested the waters before. Every time opinions were divided. Every time there were political waves. But this time the impact could be huge.

With Thailand still divided over Thaksin even though he is in exile in Dubai, it can be assumed that the vociferous national conflict can get more heated if he actually returns. If Pheu Thai is in power after the next election, the last thing it needs may be the surefire politicisation of his return.

Thaksin’s daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who is now Pheu Thai’s biggest attraction and even tipped to be the next prime minister, was constantly asked about Thaksin’s possible return.

“I don’t know how or when,” she said in January. “My father doesn’t want to politicise it.” she said in Loei. At that time she was responding to a question about what looked like Thaksin’s tongue-in-cheek statement that if big news was to happen, it would be her who would announce it (the return). “I’m here to help the party promote its policies for the people. Helping the people is what I’m here for.”

Whether Thaksin wants to politicise it or not, the timing of raising the subject with Kyodo is curious.

Thaksin fled Thailand in 2000s as the Ratchadapisek land controversy led to a jail sentence _ handed down remarkably when his political camp was in power. The case involved his family’s purchase of a state-auctioned land, a business that political office holders and their spouses were not supposed to be involved in.

There’s something about Thai politicians and land.

Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was doing great as a prime minister and the Pheu Thai Party was being poised for another impressive election win, until an amnesty bill that critics said was crafted to allow him to return as a free man changed everything.

March 24, 2023: Precision and creativity go hand in hand, so US perceived attempts to ban TikTok or allegedly force a sale to dilute Chinese influences can be a double-edged sword.

America is a massive TikTok market, meaning that with over 150 million active users, a lot of information is going Beijing’s way, and TikTok CEO Shou Chew faced a hostile congressional hearing this week over national security and privacy concerns. Talks about ban or forced sale have risen again at the moment.

The grilling was described as largely bipartisan, with the western media saying that ones have never seen American politicians this united of late. Yet, analysts believe, the same can be said about TikTok fans and content creators in the United States.

“It’s a nervous time for content creators who’ve made a career on the app with content like comedy sketches, music, or beauty tutorials for their followers,” BBC said, but the network added that a ban looked unlikely at the moment. One TikTok celebrity with a following of 1.4 million was quoted as saying that getting rid of the platform “would be pretty major and screw up a lot of people’s livelihoods and careers”.

TikTok content creators are creative as they have learned to convey hard-hitting, funny or mocking information in brief moments. With the on-going US-China showdown over the app having freedom of expression/information as a major backdrop, what US politicians think can inspire related, satirical content which might not bode well for a country presenting itself as a freedom advocate, it is warned.

March 23, 2023: Most people know the Ukrainian president once pursued a career in comedy, but, apparently, not everyone thinks that he is playing a hero intentionally and for too long.

Thaksin Shinawatra is among the minority. In a comment that ought to baffle many, he said Ukraine was “jinxed”. It seems that he was calling Volodymyr Zelenskyy the country’s bad-luck leader. Anyway, before any debate starts, let Thaksin’s words speak for themselves:

“I think Ukraine is jinxed. That is because it has a president who was a comedian who has had to play a hero, and the hero bit has been enjoyed for a little too long, while the country crumbles,” Thaksin said during a regular online programme organised and promoted by his strategists in Thailand.

“Truth is that negotiations (to prevent or cut short the war) should have taken place at the very beginning but they are too late now. (The war) will end, of course, but the end will come a bit too late.”

Thaksin also talked about the Move Forward Party, and not too positively. Commenting on criticism against Pheu Thai by Move Forward, which suggested the biggest political party was bringing everyone under its umbrella in complete disregard for their ideological backgrounds, stances or flip-flopping, Thaksin said: “I hear some people say Move Forward is acting increasingly like the Democrats, which I’ve begun to agree.”

The only thing the Democrats do, opponents say, is talk highly about themselves and badly about others.

It’s not the first time that Thaksin has compared Move Forward with the “holier-than-thou” Democrats, but it’s his first since “Jiab Klaoklai” slammed Pheu Thai on an election campaign stage a few days ago.

March 22, 2023: Fraud taking place on the cyberspace either committed by unscrupulous influencers or carried out in a more organised way by networks of conmen is affecting more young adults than older folks, findings show.

The reasons are simple: The young generation is more well-versed online, more involved in e-commerce, bolder when it comes to “investing” using new methods, and fearless when large sums of cash leave their accounts after just a few touches of their phone screens.

Last but not least, Ponzi schemes have turned from word-of-mouth operations into something based online. They used to prey on greedy adults but are finding the reaches of the internet and people in it more appealing.

Singapore’s data last year showed an alarming rise in victimisation of people aged below 40. In Europe and America, being ultra-tech-savvy teens can be a curse, according to researches. Complaints filed by youngsters have doubled or tripled, simply because tech-smart as they are, they are also trustful to the point of naivety.

Most online scams have to do with products that are promised but never delivered. (The talk-of-the-town case in Thailand at the moment looks like one of them, police said.) Job scams have been numerous in Singapore.

In Thailand, major Ponzi schemes emerge regularly. They are easy to spot but hard to avoid, because overly-sweet promises of returns play with human greed, which in many cases come out on top despite constant caution left and right.

More youngsters trust influencers than older people. Another type of scams involves creating fake social media accounts that mimic a certain influencer, hold a contest and then ask players to pay a fee or provide their bank account number to get their prize in case they “win”.

Another type still creates a website and makes it look like a legitimate online store selling items at massive discounts. The link can go viral in one day. However, what is ordered never arrives and better still for the fraudsters, they now can have victims’ credit cards and personal information.

March 21, 2023: Anyone who is not familiar with Thai politics may assume that the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties are now close to burning their bridges after watching what the latter’s star speaker, Amarat Chokepamitkul, said on the latter’s campaign stage recently.

Those who are will shrug it off, but may also understand more why Pheu Thai has to be increasingly vocal against Palang Pracharath lately and why Piyabutr Saengkanokkul has to come out to declare that if the future government has either Prayut Chan-o-cha or Prawit Wongsuwan in it, Move Forward will be definitely in the opposition.

During what looked like a very recent election campaign, Amarat, also famously known as “Jiab Kaoklai”, slammed Pheu Thai for “achieving nothing when it served as the government”;  having the tendency to “breed with a water monitor”; “failing to seek justice for red-shirt activists” killed in the Rajprasong violence, and only playing “smack and kiss” politics. She insisted that the only “pro-democracy” party left standing is Move Forward.

It’s not Move Forward’s breakup message, though. Thai politicians do that, especially during election times. Even those from the same party attack one another if it could get them elected. Move Forward remains Pheu Thai’s likeliest post-election partner.

However, Amarat’s clip is going viral and coinciding with Pheu Thai’s strong dismissal of a possible union with Palang Pracharath. Amarat thinking so is bad, but voters thinking so is much worse.

Piyabutr is adding to the intrigue. In a Facebook post, he insisted that a Move Forward marriage with either Prayut or Prawit or both can be ruled out. “Move Forward will be in the opposition” if either of them is in the government, he pledged.

Some may wonder why it had to be Piyabutr and not Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat, but that’s probably another issue entirely.

March 20, 2023: The last time the financial world was this scared, greed was the main villain. It still is this time, apparently, but significantly adding to the problem are honest mistakes, fears and plummeting confidence.

The line will be blurred again between socialism and capitalism, as state money and drastic government intervention are returning to the fore with a vengeance. The takeover of Credit Suisse by UBS looks like a private sector affair on the surface, but it couldn’t have been achieved without crucial government help. (With the crisis deepening and spreading across borders, it will not be that clear from here on out whether states are playing facilitators or providers.)

During the previous financial crisis which began in America (the burst of the housing bubble that spread sickness through its financial world and beyond), bank runs took place for a good reason, as greed-induced complacency and extreme oversight virtually eradicated lending principles, causing toxic assets all over the place. This time, scandals and justified doubts eroded trust in Credit Suisse, while interest rate hikes _ apparently to cope with inflations in the United States _ combined with jumpiness of a massive number of depositors to cause historic failures of the Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.

Greed appears to remain a key villain, although the general narrative may attempt to suggest otherwise. Check out “cash assets” and “non-cash assets” of major banks (Big difference is that non-cash assets may easily turn into “unrealized losses” in a heartbeat). Most banks have minuscule cash compared with, say, bonds they are holding. Granted, deposited money has to be invested, because banking business requires so, meaning cash has to be transformed into something else, but investing wisely is not difficult with good textbooks and cautionary tales out there.)

How worried should we be then? The main narrative so far is that there is nothing to fear. However, similarities to the previous 2007-2008 global crisis _ collapses of the big guns one after another, governments rushing to help, it all starting in America and, of course, the frequent incantation that the biggest thing to fear is fear itself _ are too many for comfort.

March 19, 2023: America with former president Donald Trump charged with criminal offences cannot be pretty, but that is exactly what he predicts will happen in the next three days or so.

He took to the social media on Saturday to claim he expected to be arrested this week in connection with an investigation into a hush money scheme involving adult film actress Stormy Daniels. What should supporters do? Protest, he said.

Trump, referring to himself, said online the “leading Republican candidate and former president of the United States will be arrested on Tuesday of next week”. According to CNN, he did not say why he expected to be arrested, and his team said after Trump’s post that it had not received any notifications from the authorities.

The network said one of its reporters said Friday that meetings have been going on throughout the week among city, state and federal law enforcement agencies in New York City about security preparations possibly in case of an indictment of Trump.

Manhattan legal authorities have apparently been investigating whether payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in 2016 broke state laws.

The grand jury in Manhattan has reportedly been hearing from those who claimed he orchestrated payments to the women to silence them about sexual encounters they said they had with the former president a decade earlier.

Said CNN: “Any indictment of the former president, who is running for reelection in 2024, would mark a historic first and quickly change the political conversation around an already divisive figure. While Trump has an extensive history of civil litigation both before and after taking office, a criminal charge would represent a dramatic escalation of his legal woes as he works to recapture the White House.”

To many, Trump’s online message reminds them of the infamous Capitol incident a few years ago. “Protest, take our nation back.”

March 18, 2023: A political opponent of Srettha Thavisin sees a disturbing similarity between Thaksin Shinawatra and the multi-billionaire real estate tycoon now leading the charge for the Pheu Thai Party.

Nipit Intarasombat of the Palang Pracharath Party is a former Democrat who knows a thing or two about “the other camp” and is apparently still bitter about how the man in Dubai became the champion of the poor despite being one of Thailand’s richest.

“It reminds me of the Thaksin time when he (Srettha) talked about poor people and the (electoral) crowds cheered every word,” Nipit wrote on his Facebook.

To be fair to Thaksin, all MPs are rich compared with the majority of Thais. Nipit, however, took issue with Srettha slamming “inequality” in Thailand.

One Srettha statement does sound strange. In an interview published on Workpoint’s website, he said: “Nobody wants to be labelled poor. (He was talking about the “Poverty cards” idea that could lead to some aide but, first, cardholders have to admit they are “poor”.) I understand that there are poor people and there are rich people. Everyone has different merits (good deeds from a previous life) from the others. Some people’s ancestors also earned it more than the others’. But there is no point whatsoever to expand the gap through words or methods.”

It’s good that he believes in past deeds, but a lot of equality advocates will say that to suggest that deeds committed in other lives determine the levels of wealth in this life reeks of “devaluation” in itself. After all, it implies that poor people had done bad things before they were born into this life.

March 17, 2023: How did it go from “Prayut, let’s have a gunfight so I can end your fakery for good” to “Prayut, you are the best real deal I have ever seen, so let me join Ruam Thai Sang Chart”?

To Saranwut Saranket, he’s jumping from a “fake” side to the “real” one. His past attack on Prayut while being with the Pheu Thai Party was “a role I had to play.”

“I was playing my opposition role to the best of my ability,” said Saranwut of the dramatic censure speech three years ago during which he asked Prayut to a gun duel in front of the Emerald Buddha Temple. “Let’s go there. One bullet each. Will you?” The challenge made headlines and was still all over the internet.

He is joining Ruam Thai Sang Chart after coming to realise that he was playing for the wrong team, he claimed this week. “They are all fake. Thai people must have their eyes opened and stop allowing (politicians) to fool them,” he said, all the while singing Prayut’s praises. “I admire Gen Prayut for his determination to protect the nation from looters and extremists. With him, I can save and serve all the Thai people who are suffering.”

March 16, 2023: The biggest opposition party, continuing to play down a rumoured union with “the other side”, has expressed strong faith in current partners when it comes to voting to select the next prime minister.

Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew virtually said it was impossible for the party’s existing allies to support anybody else if Pheu Thai emerges the election winner.

“We will invite them to work with us in selecting the prime minister,” Cholnan said. He suggested that further talks would be needed if the allies’ pro-Pheu Thai vote comes with a condition that backers must be in the next government.

“If they (the allies) want to be in the government, that will be a condition that we will discuss together,” he said.

His statement is an indirect snub to those who speculate that when push comes to shove, or when being in the government is at stake, Pheu Thai would go for the unfathomable option of backing Prawit Wongsuwan, the Palang Pracharath leader, as the new prime minister. It would be a farce on a grand scale if Pheu Thai opts to back Prawit after having asked its allies to support its own prime ministerial nominee.

Cholnan today continued to weaken the Palang Pracharath union speculation, although he did not unequivocally rule it out. Pheu Thai, he said, would rather work with parties “that share our ideology”, and anything shorter than that would “not be good for national progress.”

“It’s highly possible that we will join hands with the same ideological minds (in selecting the next prime minister),” he said.

March 15, 2023: Political speculation is leaning heavily toward changing of the guard after the next general election, but some analysts have begun to look into the ironic possibility that a massive Pheu Thai landslide might deliver an unlikely return to the past four years.

The scenario is like this: Pheu Thai wins the election by a landslide at the expense of its current allies. (Assuming that a large number of voters will not cross the ideological line, Pheu Thai’s gains are primarily its allies’ losses.) The government camp, despite being hurt by defections and declining popularities of individuals or parties, still manage to win a combined 200 seats give or take a few. This is not an absolute stretch because all it takes is for Palang Pracharath and Ruam Thai Sang Chart to gather around 50 seats each, Bhumjaithai to surpass them by a dozen seats or two, and Democrats to “maintain the rock bottom” of around 50 seats. This kind of numbers will bring senators to the forefront. All of a sudden, it could be 2019 all over again.

As we can see, to prevent the opposition camp’s scare, its parties should considerably but not too aggressively outdo their 2019 performances (in case of Pheu Thai in particular) or get satisfactory, albeit not better, result (in case of Move Forward). All this should happen without Pheu Thai winning too much. Seats should spread around nicely among the parties as a change of government is more possible with the opposition winning as a bloc than a party doing well at the expense of its allies. Political history, after all, shows the biggest party could end up in the opposition bloc.

March 14, 2023: This is not a joke. There is one former American president who has spoken out against his country and actually praised China.

However, the sitting UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has chosen to go with the flow. China, he said just as England, the United States and Australia further unveiled a nuclear submarine cooperation project to counter Beijing,  “represents a challenge to the world order” which the UK must take seriously.

The world has changed a lot from the days Jimmy Carter ruled America. But it has not changed that much from the day he reiterated that fears of, propagandas against, and military measures to fight China were the exact reason why western economies have had to play catch-up with the Chinese one. Carter told Donald Trump when the latter was serving as the US president that war-hungry attitudes were disrupting many things and slowing down progresses in other aspects.

Watch your military spending and use taxpayers’ money wisely, according to Carter’s main message.

“We have wasted $3 trillion,” he said. (That was when Trump was president. It must be a little bit higher now.) “China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that’s why they’re ahead of us. In almost every way. And I think the difference is if you take $3 trillion and put it in American infrastructure, you’d probably have $2 trillion left over.”

War money could have made more high-speed railroads, bridges “that aren’t collapsing”, highways that “are maintained properly” and an unrivalled education system, the former president, whose health is declining now, pointed out to Trump.

Surely Joe Biden was not listening. And it is clear what worries Sunak more _ China or military expenditure of England that threatens to grow despite serious economic problems.

The UK prime minister said in America this week: “China is a country with fundamentally different values to ours and it represents a challenge to the world order.

“And that’s why it’s right that we are alert to that and take steps to protect ourselves… stand up for our values and protect our interests.”

He insisted that his government took the “challenge” posed by China seriously, adding that the UK had taken action including blocking Chinese investment in sensitive sectors like semiconductors. Asked whether the ambition to increase defence spending to 2.5% of national income was meaningless without a timeframe, the prime minister said the government should be judged “on our actions”.

Hegemony can cause an unhealthy mindset dominating foreign policies, causing international disruptions big and small. It draws a lot of money into a country’s war machine and industry. Human resources _ a country’s best minds _ aside from contributing to productive technological advancement, also have to be involved in thinking about things that are not constructive. All the while, opponents one thinks he is fighting may be building, experimenting and innovating, according to Carter.

March 13, 2023: When the biggest political party declared that it wanted 310 seats in the next general election, its unspoken words were probably that the success would be at its opposition partners’ huge expense.

Even its former top warrior who is now rebelling against it, Jatuporn Prompan, said the 310-seat goal could not be achieved without the likes of Move Forward, Seri Ruam Thai, and Thai Sang Thai suffering heavily. According to Jatuporn, most voters traditionally won’t cross the ideological line, meaning those who supported Palang Pracharath previously may back Ruam Thai Sang Chart now and voters who shifted from dissolved Thai Raksa Chart to Future Forward (now Move Forward) would likely return to the Pheu Thai fold.

This means Pheu Thai’s new aim, upgraded significantly from the party’s previous goal of early 200s and hyped up over the past few days, would cost current allies big time, Jatuporn said over the weekend.

The proclaimed new aim would leave Pheu Thai’s allies and opponents to fight for the remaining 190 seats. Palang Pracharath, Future Forward (now Move Forward), Democrat, Bhumjaithai and Seri Ruam Thai won a combined 311 seats in the last general election. This is not to mention Ruam Thai Sang Chart which has just been formed and has Prayut Chan-o-cha as the selling point for one ideological camp.

For Pheu Thai to announce the 310-seat aim, it is unspeakably selfish in Jatuporn’s eyes, inconsiderate in the eyes of more neutral analysts, and common among those seeing it as a morale-boosting practice that every big organization would resort to. The three groups share one belief, which is that the adjusted goal is difficult to achieve.

March 12, 2023: Supposed “neutrality” is colliding head-on with freedom of speech with British Broadcasting Corporation providing an unlikely, ironic stage. The backdrop is as significant as the action, because it concerns what the Rishi Sunak government thinks about asylum seekers.

The issue has everything. It features a much-criticised asylum policy of a country that is supposed to have a nicer one. It has a beloved sport personality, former England football striker Gary Lineker, speak out against it. It draws flak from “pro-democracy” BBC of all agencies. It prompts other famous football names who worked with Lineker in popular BBC’s Match of the Day football review programme to rush to support him. It makes other people frown because if people like Lineker can’t criticise a government policy, who can?

It’s a “mutiny” at BBC, Mail Online reported, and all of a sudden Lineker has become a freedom of speech poster boy. At the ironic expense of BBC, of course. One BBC journalist was quoted as saying: “There’s a complete absence of leadership.” Another reportedly said: “This is Armageddon – essentially an entire division of the BBC has gone on strike.” The handling of the Lineker affair was called a “disaster.”

The BBC problem has become so intense that many people forgot the root cause. Lineker was attacking the Rishi Sunak government’s immigration policy, prompting what looked like a disciplinary suspension from the BBC which reportedly insisted he was supposed to act “neural.” That reported BBC charge is weird though, as every football commentator is biased to begin with.

Records show Lineker always expressed his opinions in public, usually on his Twitter account which has over 8.7 million followers as of last week. When he criticised the Conservative government’s most recent anti-immigration policy, put forward by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman, problems ensued.

“Good heavens, this is beyond awful,” he tweeted about a video of Braverman saying that asylum seekers who arrive in the UK in ‘small boats’ would not just be denied asylum, but also access to a range of other rights (reportedly such as sex trafficking protection), and would be returned to “their own country if safe or, if not, a third country”.

Consequences for Lineker were dire. In a statement, the BBC said that after extensive discussions with him and his team, it had “decided that he will step back from presenting Match of the Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media”.

Other famous football characters who usually worked with Lineker in the TV programme backed him uproariously, telling BBC to count them out of the Match of the Day as well. To add to the drama, Lineker’s son has said his dad will never back down from his ‘Nazi’ tweet comparing the government’s asylum policy to 1930s Germany.

March 11, 2023: It looks like former UK prime minister Boris Johnson will not get his reported way in the “Resignation Honours” uproar rocking him and his family at the moment.

Current UK leader Rishi Sunak has delivered a blow to the former leader’s whispered bid to give his father a knighthood. The prime minister said his own dad was “going to get a card on Fathers’ Day – and that is about that”.

In England, Resignation Honours are royal honours an outgoing prime minister can seek for people following his or her resignation. In a list, a prime minister may ask the monarch to bestow peerages, knighthoods, or other honours, on any number of people of his or her choosing. Johnson’s reported list is causing an outrage featuring charges of blatant nepotism, and words are that it is worrying even some family members.

Almost 250,000 have signed The Independent’s petition calling for the prime minister to block Johnson’s bid to give an honour to his father. If it goes to that, it would be what the media call a nuclear option. High-ranking comments from Downing Street opposing reported Johnson’s move should be enough to kill the controversy, it is hoped.

Sunak, quoted by The Independent, said: “For me a big success is remembering to get my dad a card on Fathers’ Day, so that is probably about my limit of it.”

Asked if that means a “no”, he said: “Yes. As I said, if I am doing a card I’m doing well. Love my dad as I do.”

Pushed again by reporters, he said: “My dad’s going to get a card on Fathers’ Day and that is about that.”

The controversy is not reaching the sensitive and potentially explosive matter of equality, however. At least not yet. But it has dug up some juicy gossips about Stanley Johnson’s public demeanour.

March 10, 2023: It was a dire warning that came from someone who used to bleed Pheu Thai blood and fight alongside the man who is the party’s top street warrior now and in the hot seat at the moment.

According to Jatuporn Prompan, who is rebelling against Pheu Thai, Nattawut Saikuar has taken a big risk in going on Pheu Thai’s election campaign stage and making himself look politically active. Nattawut’s political ban means such an act could land him and the whole party in serious constitutional trouble, with party dissolution maximum punishment for Pheu Thai, Jatuporn said.

The complaint filed against Nattawut by a former adviser to a House legal and human rights committee was a “pretend cremation” (a term for a ceremonious act of cremation allowing distant friends or colleagues or mere guests to place sandalwood below the coffin), Jatuporn said. But he insisted that “real cremation” will be attempted. Pheu Thai, he insisted, must take it seriously and not be distracted by lesser problems like election mudslinging.

Nattawut, the director of the “Pheu Thai family” used to be sentenced to two years and eight months in jail and handed a 10-year political ban for a siege on late ex-prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda’s residence years ago. He was not supposed to be on stage introducing election candidates, promoting Pheu Thai policies and attacking the party’s political opponents, Jatuporn said.

March 9, 2023: Electoral messages _ sincere, or fraudulent, or bold, or purely for advertisement purposes _ need to be rechecked for discrepancies at least. Thai Sang Thai leader Sudarat Keyuraphan must be keeping that in mind right now.

 Her campaign posters, a pair of them to be more specific, have been mocked virally. One, showing a determined Sudarat, said: “We put our hearts in our work and never get tired”. The other, a widely seen one featuring her hugging somebody: “Eight years of exhaustion.”

“One way or the other, sis,” a pro-Prayut Facebook page said, putting pictures of the two posters side by side and circling the messages in red.

March 8, 2023: Calls for unequivocally-legalised prostitution, extension of paid pregnancy leave, provision of free tampons at work places and menstrual pain legitimising extended sick days may not be totally new in Thai feminists’ campaigns, but those requests can be more significant these days when the power of women’s movements is getting stronger in an arguably more receptive political atmosphere.

The upcoming election is helping, too. To add to that, breaking electoral promises is harder than before, with politicians’ statements recorded, their posters photographed and social media ready to circulate them when vows are not kept.

For women’s movements, now is the time to up the ante. They probably have done so today, re-emphasising their demands in a gathering at the centre of male-dominated political power, the Government House. The activists also insist the international Women’s Day should be a public holiday as well.

March 7, 2023: It reads like an absolutely-normal public comment by a high-ranking official, but people familiar with the way the Chinese political leaders conduct themselves insist the latest statement by Xi Jinping on the United States is anything but.

Here’s what the Chinese leader said on Monday to a group of state advisers representing private businesses during an annual legislative meeting: “[In the past five years,] Western countries led by the United States have contained and suppressed us in an all-round way, which has brought unprecedented severe challenges to our development.”

Here’s what CNN, which reported the news, said: “China’s top leader usually avoids directly attacking the US in public even as relations between Beijing and Washington have deteriorated sharply in recent years. He generally refers only to Western countries or some developed nations when making critical comments about Washington.”

Perhaps what CNN implied is that if China had been polite before, it is no longer so now, and that when China stops being polite, those it doesn’t like should be worried.

Xi is not the only high-ranking Chinese whose change in diplomatic behaviour has been noticed by CNN. China’s new Foreign Minister Qin Gang has warned today that “conflict and confrontation” with the United States is inevitable if Washington does not change course. According to the network, he also delivered a stern and wide-ranging rebuke of US policies for his first press conference in the new role.

Qin was until recently China’s ambassador to the US, and built up a reputation for being “careful”, CNN said, seemingly justifying its decision to put his “warning” as the lead story on its website.

March 6, 2023: A western conclusion going the rounds at the moment is that Beijing gravitating toward Russia is making it easier for their opponents to mend and thus strengthen an awkward anti-China alliance in the Pacific.

A CNN lead story is prominently among such analyses. It states that Xi Jinping’s “backing” of Vladimir Putin “has opened the door for the United States and partners in the Pacific to shore up sometimes frayed relationships to the detriment of Beijing.”

A missed major point: If it’s easier for one side to get stronger and more united, the same applies to the other side. What would China do if it is convinced that an alliance against it will get bolder and more powerful? It can choose to backpedal, or it can seek to match the changes.

The last thing the war-weary world needs right now is a strategic paranoia. China is not sending out arms, whereas the other side is. Fears that China could do to Taiwan what Russia is doing to Ukraine are in the narrative holding the anti-Beijing alliance, which could be “greased” by high-profile visits between China and Russia. Making the most of such fears is good for solidifying alliances, but it also courts aggression at the highest level.

Wars happen because of fears, mistrust and opposing military alliances flexing their muscles that render diplomacy less and less effective. All the anti-peace elements are getting clearer and firmer each passing day.

March 5, 2023: The most recent NIDA survey in Songkhla looks absolutely bad for the political party that was the province’s champion in the 2019 election.

The Palang Pracharath Party won 4 out of 8 seats in the southern province four years ago (Democrats got 3 and Bhumjaithai 1), but is the eighth most popular party now in the NIDA Poll’s latest findings. A total of 1,100 Songkhla residents were surveyed between February 17-23.

The Democrats came first with 23.4% support, followed by Pheu Thai (19%), Ruam Thai Sang Chart (15.9%) and Move Forward (13.4%). Palang Pracharath won only 3.18% backing. Chart Pattana Kla was seventh with 4.64% support.

The Prayut theory (in which Palang Pracharath’s ups and downs were linked to the party’s treatment of the prime minister) has been strengthened in Songkhla, which despite supporting the Democrats in constituency elections seems to favour Prayut Chan-o-cha a lot more than Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit when it comes to who should be the next prime minister. Prayut was first with 26% support, followed by Pheu Thai’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra (18.46%) and Move Forward’s Pita Limjaroenrat (11.36%). Jurin was sixth with 6.73% backing.

Palang Pracharath leader Prawit Wongsuwan was 12th with 1.09% support.

Pheu Thai’s strong support in Songkhla is very noticeable and remarkable.

March 4, 2023: Allegations of secret political agendas, blatant hypocrisy, attempted “exposure” and personal grudges all feature in the on-going showdown between a media mogul and a famous former “grey business” operator who has turned into a political activist who until recently had the public believe everything he said.

The Manager website of Sondhi Limthongkul has run a daily “countdown” for Chuwit Kamolvisit to show evidence, which the latter said he unmistakably had, of alleged massive bribery in mass transit. It was a satirical countdown to the deadline, which is days away, provided by the authorities for Chuwit to prove his claim.

Sondhi himself has lambasted Chuwit in a fiery video clip calling the latter the mother of all fakes.

The media mogul does not consider Chuwit a whistleblower, alleging that the man is just a hired gun paid to kick-start issues for the media and social media to gobble up. According to Sondhi, Chuwit attacked the Bhumjaithai Party’s cannabis policy for purely political purposes, and hypocritically at that.

Chuwit, whose claims have triggered some national controversies or uproars, has also apparently accused Sondhi of being an “extortionist”, and a political one, too. That allegation was crazy, Sondhi said, “But don’t ever think you are the only one who can get really crazy. I can be really crazy too.”

Chuwit’s recent wrath and public aggression was a natural reaction of a hypocrite who is caught with pants down, Sondhi charged.

The back-and-forth allegations have involved Bhumjaithai, Pheu Thai and even Ruam Thai Sang Chart. Both men have gone to jail but have managed to keep their high-profile statuses as political “watchdogs”. “Watchdogs” is what they prefer to call themselves, but each is calling the other a “slave dog.”

Their pasts are being dug up. Sondhi led a prolonged street campaign that led to the downfall of Thaksin Shinawatra but he used to be Thaksin’s biggest cheerleader before that. Chuwit operated a massage parlor and Sondhi maintained that switching political camps is definitely better than being involved in human trafficking. “Don’t ever forget what you did before,” Sondhi said, vowing to be Chuwit’s “enemy for life” in the process.

March 3, 2023: In the end, how much consumers give and get decides the merits of the controversial merger between True Corporation and DTAC, not business propagandas, academics’ opinions or politically-driven comments.

During their highly-publicised celebrations, the merged companies have gleefully promised everything (except cheaper fees, that is) while Advanced Info Service, the former market leader, has been totally dismayed and its beware-of-market-domination warning has been understandably amplified.

Truth is that both camps always had and will still have the opportunities to prove their points. Mobile phone and internet fees are something that is up to business morals, not merger or opposition to it.

If consumers pay less and get speedier services from the new company, then the merger makes sense. As for AIS, it always can reduce the fees unilaterally and in the process shove it in the new entity’s face.

In the telecom world and as far as consumers are concerned, only action will do it. Rhetoric is just what it is.

March 2, 2023: A Facebook post by the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok shows Beijing is worried that irregularities involving businesspersons of the Chinese origin in Thailand might affect economic cooperation between the two countries.

The Facebook page of the Chinese Embassy has insisted that very few Chinese were involved in business malpractice in Thailand, but expressed concern that one rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel. The embassy was adamant that all Chinese businesses are always told to abide by and respect Thai laws, and pledged that the Chinese authorities would do anything they can to help Bangkok investigate and tackle any troublesome issue.

“What needs to be stressed,” the embassy said, “is that existing problems concern just a small group of people, not the majority of Chinese businesses in Thailand. To use the issue to oppose the entire trade and economic cooperation is unreasonable.”

It added that there existed third-party efforts to “smear China and destroy friendship” between the countries. It promised all-out efforts to oppose that.

March 1, 2023: “It’s one (possible) death now, and we must never make it two.” That is one of the desperate calls for the public to hold their horses on the most uproarious criminal case at the moment.

The case involved young people who are heatedly criticised or even scolded on the social media with practically nobody to turn to. Criticism came from the gravity of the possible crime, what looked like repeated lies that apparently misdirected search and rescue and seriously-improper handling of a baby boy, who is still missing and feared dead as of today afternoon.

One lawyer even said that no age could justify some cruelty.

However, there are people who want justice to run its natural course and possible punishment to be handed down in due process. Social media condemnations, they say, are for adult suspects who have better judgement before, during and after a crime and cope with pressure a lot better.

 

 

Daily updates of local and international events by Tulsathit Taptim