11 July 2024

November 30, 2023: Henry Kissinger divided opinions, but to be fair every man does. He could be anything, but from his famous quotes he also sounded like a humorous yet truthful humanist.

Here are some examples: “Corrupt politicians make the other ten per cent look bad.” That he was a high-level American politician himself makes the quote more resounding.

“Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There is too much fraternising with the enemy.” That is so true. If you can name a cuter, more romantic and more deceptive use of the word “Battle”, you can outsmart him.

 “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” Go back to the second paragraph.

 “The nice thing about being a celebrity is that if you bore people they think it’s their fault.” Again, that is so true. Many people blame themselves having watched a bad movie, assuming it is too profound to understand.

 “Every victory is only the price of admission to a more difficult problem.” This one is sharp but there’s a question. What’s the challenge if you contested in an Olympics and were deemed the fastest man in the world?

“The issues are too important to be left for the voters.” Go back to the second paragraph.

 “The reason that university politics is so vicious is because stakes are so small.” He could be saying that, in other words, life has not intervened yet.

“It is one of history’s ironies that Communism, advertised as a classless society, tended to breed a privileged class of feudal proportions.” He was attacking China in this one. But fair enough, he did not seem to have only admiration for democracy as we know it either.

“The guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.” This is a trimmed version of a longer quote. It was aimed at how we may have wrongly defined “victory.”

“It’s a pity that both sides can’t lose.” He was commenting on the Iraq-Iran war but this quote can be universally applied.

“In Washington…the appearance of power is almost as important as the reality of it. In fact, the appearance is frequently its essential reality.” The webpage collecting his quotes said this one was referring to his White House years.

Rest in peace.

November 29, 2023: Truce may be pausing some horrors but it is partly revealing the extent of the sufferings of innocent people in Gaza.

Gaza’s government said more than 14,800 people have been killed since the war with Israel began, but a spokeswoman of the World Health Organisation was quoted by BBC as saying: “Eventually, we will see more people dying from disease than we are even seeing from the bombardment if we are not able to put back [together] this health system.”

According to the BBC, the UN estimates that more than 1.8 million people in Gaza have fled their homes since the war began. About 60% of them are sheltering in 156 facilities belonging to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa. This means the number of faceless sufferers is enormous, and reporters’ cameras could access just a minuscule fraction of them. But truce is allowing some fresh access to startling information that has not been made public before.

Addressing journalists via video link from Gaza, Unicef spokesman James Elder reported seeing hospitals full of children with horrendous war wounds, the BBC reported. The network said he described seeing one child missing part of his leg lying untreated on a hospital floor for several hours. Other injured children were lying in car parks and gardens outside, BBC said.

The WHO spokeswoman, Dr Margaret Harris, told a news conference in Geneva outbreaks of infectious diseases, with cases of diarrhoea among children aged five and older more than 100 times normal levels by early this month, are threatening the displaced people.

No effective and immediate treatment is available, she said, adding that affected infants in particular can deteriorate and die very quickly.

Children and young people accounted for nearly half of the Gaza death toll caused by bombings, Palestinian authorities said.

The window through which the world can peek into Gaza may slam shut after the truce ends, but efforts to extend it are intensifying.

November 28, 2023: Digital Economy and Society Minister Prasert Jantararuangtong has been asked a hard question about the ruling party’s stand on political amnesty: Didn’t Pheu Thai promise it during the election campaign?

His answer was that his party would “look into” the opposition Move Forward Party’s amnesty bill, which will certainly be controversial and divisive. He represents the cautious and reserved stance of entire Pheu Thai, who due to its own circumstances can never allow the bill to go anywhere near Article 112.

Prasert hinted that as long as there are no Article 112 complications, Pheu Thai would be supportive of political amnesty. It goes without saying that the last time Pheu Thai grappled with political amnesty, its government collapsed.

Yet Pheu Thai is aware that an outright rejection might court the untoward consequences of making Move Forward more popular and itself less so.

Prasert, therefore, needed a long answer to what appeared to be a straightforward question. Yes, Pheu Thai talked about amnesty during the election campaign. No, we did not make it a priority, because the bread and butter issue is a lot more urgent. Of course, we will study Move Forward’s bill, and if it will truly benefit the people and not cause divisiveness, there are no reasons why we won’t support it. And please stop talking about the person on the 14th floor. No law is broken in that case.

Public Health Minister and ex-Pheu Thai leader Cholanan Srikaew basically echoed that stand. He said Pheu Thai’s executive board and the rest of the party’s strategists would study the bill thoroughly. One key factor, he insisted, has to do with whether the bill would potentially divide the Thai society, something Pheu Thai does not want to see happening.

November 27, 2023: Not every Chinese visitor comes here to spend, according to the Immigration Bureau. The number of those coming to beg, though, is absolutely minuscule, but that does not mean the Thai characteristic generosity and charitableness won’t make it grow.

The bureau told a press conference it was true that some Chinese beggars’ incomes were big, with some earning Bt10,000 a day each. One 28-year-old woman arrested about a week ago said she had come to Thailand willingly after being told by a friend that money was good.

Others had come because of words of mouth in their neighbourhoods, and it looked like those who were rounded up did not know one another, the agency said. They insisted that scars on their bodies were wounds caused during childhood, not fresh injuries, the bureau reported.

Six Chinese beggars have been arrested over the past few weeks. One of them, aged 34, earned as much as Bt10,000 on a certain day. She kept transferring money into her account, the police said, adding that the others arrested had the same habit of sending money to their own accounts. This strengthens the police belief that they were working on their own, not for racketeers.

The Chinese were found in crowded areas near big shopping malls or skytrain or subway stations.

The bureau has also arrested Arab-looking people pestering pedestrians, shoppers and tourists in Sukhumvit areas for money. Some wouldn’t leave their “targets” unless they got Bt500 or Bt1,000 banknotes from them, the police said.

November 26, 2023: There was a time when a Miss Universe was only required to be the most beautiful woman in the world, and by “beautiful” it meant physically. Then, rightly or wrongly, feminism entered the fray, followed by politics, local and international. Patriotism has also wanted a say, along with human rights and environmentalism.

The result is a highly-confusing picture. Should beauty come from the inside? If so, why do we need a Miss Universe contest in the first place? Should a contestant be patriotic? But what is patriotism anyway? And should a Miss Universe have to be smart? Is that fair to “less smart” people, though, especially if we take human rights into account?

There are people who think Miss Universe is the concept of inequality or stereotype in the extreme. But then there are people who say we shall not think too much of it. The world is full of silly competitions like the ones where the winners eat the biggest amounts of steaks in one hour or pull the heaviest trucks with bare hands (which is not fair to people with small stomachs or those lacking strengths.)

The point is, Miss Universe is mind-boggling enough without what’s happening in Nicaragua.

November 25, 2023: In an era when every word is recorded and instantly replayable, being a good listener and prudent talker is without exception a political prerequisite. According to his critics, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin must take note.

Even a well-intended remark can be twisted and cause a lot of damage while going viral, so let alone a hardly-defendable comment like the one he made about police transfers. The critics are right in saying that while Srettha can feel aggrieved at not being completely understood, he should not complain about it.

A lot of scrutinies into Srettha’s words were reasonable, following the prime minister’s verbal recklessness itself, they say. The police comment is just one of accumulating examples which have come during this traditional honeymoon period.

He was quick to strongly condemn the Hamas who were having Thai hostages at their mercy. He asked Thai reporters “Which prime minister were you talking about?” in what was meant to be a sarcastic quip that happened to be taken seriously especially by those thinking about Thaksin Shinawatra and his daughter Paetongtarn. Like a football player asking fans of his team to be louder in the stadium, he urged supporters of digital wallet to speak up and not let the other side do all the talking.

And now he has said requests for favours in high-level police transfers have been too many to handle despite Pheu Thai’s best efforts.

“Don’t blame others,” said Associate Professor Harirak Sutabutr, former vice rector of the Thammasat University. “Don’t think it’s a conspiracy. The problems have been caused by the prime minister himself.”

November 24, 2023: It’s always good to take every piece of information with a grain of salt, but there’s rarely better time than now to do so when it comes to Gaza, Israel, the Hamas, the United States and Iran.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know what to believe. Is Iran a good guy having helped broker a hostage deal? Or is it a bad guy pretending to be good? Is the United States being honest about humanitarianism or is it tacitly encouraging Israel to unleash hell on earth? Who should we give credit to for the apparent breathing space in the volatile situation, now that Muslim media are saying one thing and western media are saying another, especially regarding Iran? Who are hiding what and who are helping them?

We don’t know everything. But, as they say, there’s a big difference between knowing that we don’t know everything and not knowing that we don’t know everything. Just sit back and enjoy the rhetoric.

November 23, 2023: The uproar over Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s controversial comment about police promotion will subside before anything substantial can be done about the political demon whose existence is confirmed by his words.

Nepotism (lobbying, bribery and corruption included) lurks in all political environments _ from absolute dictatorship to what many would consider a blooming democracy. Cutthroat politics makes the problem a lot more severe.

Many of the critics decrying Srettha’s statement were nowhere to be seen when a past Pheu Thai government appointed a police chief in a blatant nepotistic exercise. To cut a long story short, Thawil Pliensri was removed as head of the National Security Council while Yingluck Shinawatra was in power, so that then police chief Wichean Poteposree, who was at the time having to give the helm of the national police to political favourite Priewphan Damapong, allegedly could have a graceful exit. Priewphan got the police top job and Wichean had his face “saved” by taking over at the NSC. Thawil fought tooth and nail but the issue was heavily politicised because it was Pheu Thai on one side and its enemies on the other.

The Yingluck government was hailed by many, locally and internationally, as a triumph of democracy. Yet the above happened. In Thailand, one can bribe one’s way to the top, or one can use political connections. Either way, it discourages good, capable people and hinders national progress.

One of Thailand’s biggest scourges has been taking advantage of national polarity. Now that many of the Pheu Thai critics are on its side at present, what Srettha said did not mean that much. The task of scrutinising, therefore, belongs to opposition parties who certainly have their own wounds to hide.

One of biggest misperceptions about democracy is that qualified people should not be picked if they are on the other side. Nepotism feeds on this, and until it can no longer do so there is no point mocking senior officials for once in a while letting the cat out of the bag.

November 22, 2023: It’s not easy to go from the government downplaying an opposition-amplified “crisis” to the government screaming it’s actually a crisis now while the opposition insists we are doing just fine. For Thailand to achieve that, it’s truly a work of art.

To get its digital wallet agenda going, the government needs to borrow Bt500 billion, but in order to do so, the Pheu Thai-led administration has to have a very good excuse.

There is nothing better than an economic “crisis.” We badly need a stimulant, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin says. People are not forming long lines for rice, sugar or egg rations, critics argue, including some in the opposition bloc, so how dare you call it a crisis?

Worse for Srettha, note some of the critics, because he would require one speech when talking to foreign investors and the opposite of it when defending the borrowing bill.

The opposition, when attacking the bill, won’t be in a much better shape. Talking about the economy too much could be tantamount to handing Srettha Bt500 billion on a plate. Not talking about it at all is an acceptance that Thailand is doing economically okay.

Economic numbers are hard to interpret. Thais have made the task a lot harder.

November 21, 2023: Washington may have to stop the Gaza war for Joe Biden’s own good. Accumulated Palestinian sufferings are eating into his approval rating, which has declined to the lowest point since he became the president of the United States.

According to the latest national NBC News poll, Biden’s approval rating was 40%, and that was directly due to the Israel-Hamas war, in which many Americans believe Israel was overreacting and being tacitly supported by the Biden administration.

The poll whose results were announced a couple of days ago finds Biden behind Donald Trump for the first time in a hypothetical general-election matchup although the deficit was not that huge and was well within the poll’s margin of error.

The real race was less than a year away, though, and the unprecedented Trump lead in an opinion poll came in spite of all kinds of serious legal allegations and action hurled at him. If playing victims can boost chances of political success especially in a divisive national environment, Trump must be enjoying his “troubles”. Now Gaza is the added impetus.

Worse news for Biden is that the erosion of his support seemed most pronounced among Democrats, a majority of whom, said the pollsters, believed Israel has gone too far in Gaza, and among voters ages 18 to 34, with a whopping 70% of them disapproving of America’s handling of the war.

Western media have drummed up the tunnels-underneath-the-hospital “evidence” lately but, to many, that could not justify the violence against, and sufferings of, innocent Palestinians. And it also seemed that any US-influenced “humanitarian pause” would be perceived as too little too late.

November 20, 2023: Joe Biden is 81. Xi Jinping is 70. Vladimir Putin is 71. Therefore, any idea that the new wave is catching up can never be more wrong.

Gerontocracy is alive and well. It has just been made a bit more glaring by Biden looking somewhat confused at the latest APEC meeting. Truth is even if 20 years were deducted from each of the three men’s ages, this world would still be ruled by “old” people.

The Republicans are not better off. Eighty-one-year-old Republican Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell twice froze for an uncomfortably long time during two press conferences, making people question his health, BBC reported. Seventy-something US congressional members have been asked if they plan to seek re-election.

The global average median age was 30 years a couple of years ago. Half of the world population were older than 30 years, and half were younger. Japan had one of the highest median ages at 48.4 years.

November 19, 2023: At 81, you can choose to be silly with grandchildren at home or risk being ridiculed trying to locate that damn marker on a global stage.

US President Joe Biden, who might still seek a second term, wowed everyone at APEC, but that could not prevent a footage of him looking confused during the forum’s gathering ceremony from going viral. News and online gossips also insisted that he also had botched the name of the venue and refused to mention a US corporation for fear of mispronouncing it.

To be fair, stage marking confuses even young singers or dancers. The Republicans jumped on it, anyway. The video recording of the Biden on-stage moment was shared by the Republican National Committee Research account of X, which said: “YIKES: Biden gets VERY confused as he stands among follow world leaders at the APEC summit.”

Personal tweets by America’s conservatives pulled no punches, with his age coming into play. To be fair again, when Biden avoided spelling out difficult names, he replaced it with witty quips that drew laughter.

Point is, a man his age should be forgiven for mispronouncing a name or two and looking confused from time to time, shouldn’t he?

November 18, 2023: Credit to Srettha Thavisin, even CNN or Washington Post have not been able to capture that heart-warming, grandpa-esque Joe Biden smile. How many times have we seen the US president like that over the past few years?

It’s a selfie that mocks countless photos of make-believe sullenness intended to radiate awe and powers. They look anything but sincere, though, and it’s fair to say that Joe Biden is the most Joe Biden in that picture taken by the Thai prime minister.

Make no mistake, the US leader was smiling for the smartphone camera. But even fund-raising smiles are not like that. In that millisecond the two men reverted back to, well, two grown men doing what two grown men are supposed to do. We could almost hear them say “To hell with the rest of the world and digital wallet!”

The moment is a flash in the pan, obviously. It was business as usual as soon as the camera stopped clicking, so save it, if you haven’t done so already.

November 17, 2023: “Constitutional amendment” is something no government wants to hear but every opposition loves to say. So, when the government has to talk about it, a microscope is needed to see what the plan is.

When he was not in the government, Commerce Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Phumtham Wechayachai used to be ideologically precise and hard-hitting while discussing constitutional rules or principles. Wearing a different hat now, he can be forgiven for beating around the bush a little after supervising a forum intended to gather ideas on how charter amendment should proceed.

Screening his summary for main points is not easy. They appear to be the following: 1) The next election should take place under a new Constitution. 2) Forum participants he has met want an elected drafting assembly. 3) If a drafting assembly is to be formed, it will have to be decided whether all members will be elected or not. (Since every social group wants to be in it, wholesale elections might not be a good idea.) 4) The government is clear-cut on keeping the royal powers out of any amendment.

5) More forums like today’s will have to be held for those representing Thailand’s key regions. 6) There appeared to be a consensus today that the current Constitution is posing some “obstacles” when it comes to governance and public rights. 7) If Move Forward doesn’t reach out to the government, it will be the other way around. 8) The “How to proceed” forums should be wrapped up by December and inputs should go to the Cabinet in January.

He is unclear on whether there will be a public referendum, or how many times such a poll will take place. He said only that a referendum costs money and the government wants to save it. (No mentioning of digital wallet at this point.)

November 16, 2023: The Biden-Xi summit was always going to be little more than a diplomatic intermission before normal service resumes completely on Taiwan, Huawei and spy balloon fiascos, so, if you didn’t follow it, you didn’t miss much.

Here are some snippets, by the way: 1) Joe Biden still called Xi Jinping a dictator immediately after Wednesday’s meeting. 2) Both men agreed to “communicate” (which is to be expected because that was the least summit organisers and watchers had wanted). 3) The western media hailed a “common ground” on climate and agreement on fentanyl trafficking.

4) Xi’s best quotes, which came immediately after the meeting, appeared to be “Planet earth is big enough for the two countries to succeed”, “For two large countries like China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option”,  and “It is unrealistic for one side to remodel the other and conflict and confrontation has unbearable consequences for both sides.” 5) In a hard-hitting Xi statement, he asked the United States not to scheme against his country. “China has no plans to surpass or unseat the United States, and the United States should not scheme to suppress or contain China,” Xi said, according to a readout released by China’s state news agency Xinhua.

6) Biden was very “direct” on Taiwan. By that, he kept the American ambiguity directly. The “One China” policy is upheld by his administration, but that’s it. 7) The vagueness did not end there. While calling the four hours of talks “some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had”, Biden, in addition to calling Xi a dictator, insisted he would still “Trust but Verify” China. That’s a polite, diplomatic way of saying you suspect the other side often tells lies.

8) On Gaza, Biden did most of the talking and Xi did most of the listening.

November 15, 2023: Gone were the days when getting pregnant was “honourable” or “a big sacrifice” or “something to celebrate”, so an idea to revive that idea can be politically risky.

With Thailand’s birthrates alarmingly low and the daunting ageing-society phenomenon staring at everyone, it’s not surprising that many in the government want to check the trend.

Deputy government spokesperson Kenika Oonjit said Deputy Public Health Minister Santi Promphat even wanted incentives to be discussed as a “national agenda”.

Determined to tackle low birthrates, Santi wanted to promote pregnancy through state incentives including medical assistance and making it a national agenda, she said. According to her, the government must lead the way because health deterioration during and after pregnancy is what discourages many.

One measure is to send out messages honouring pregnant women, she said. That is controversial, as the suggestion that pregnant women should be treated like heroines for their national “service” can backfire. First, it could make pregnancy look, to some people at least, like a national duty and, second, it could shine a different light on those who are not pregnant.

November 14, 2023: How the government borrows money to fund the controversial digital wallet scheme _ through a normal parliamentary bill or through an emergency or executive decree _ is highly significant.

A bill will carry risks of back-stabbing, hence unpredictability, and the whole process is lengthy. A decree guarantees money immediately, but if it is shot down retroactively by Parliament, political consequences will be absolutely dire.

According to an analysis on Thai Post, a decree would survive a retroactive parliamentary voting, probably narrowly, because Pheu Thai’s existing allies would not want the government to collapse. So, why didn’t Pheu Thai go for this option but chose the other route instead?

One possible answer, the analysis says, is that it has come to the point where Pheu Thai may not really want digital wallet itself as it knows the costly plan will most likely be doomed one way or another anyway. Moreover, ordeals of politicians involved in the rice-pledging scheme of the Yingluck government remain glaring.

A killed bill would have big ramifications, too, as this one is a national monetary bill, but it’s a “democratic” demise and the current government alliance can choose whether to regroup, or have a new prime minister, or dissolve Parliament, or allow realignment of political parties. Moreover, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s resignation could shine new spotlight on Paetongtarn Shinawatra, bringing back the “half-half” speculation.

Digital wallet dying at the hands of Parliament will make Pheu Thai lose face, but there is plenty of rhetoric to salvage some reputations. “Other parties are jealous” is one. “Pheu Thai is democratic so it let Parliament decide” is another.

This is not to mention the fact that a bill would take time, and criticism from Move Forward could boomerang against the biggest party.

The analysis did not mention another possibility, which is that the borrowing bill could still sail through Parliament. That will be priceless when taking into account the theory that Pheu Thai does not want digital wallet any more.

November 13, 2023: The State Audit Office of the Kingdom of Thailand has joined the Office of the National Anti-Corruption Commission in keeping a close watch on the government’s flagship policy, but unreported action of others might be a matter of bigger concern for the prime minister.

The state auditors and NACC could be saying what they have to say, and what is more remarkable is the silence of Srettha Thavisin’s coalition allies who have left Pheu Thai to defend the controversial policy virtually by itself.

The majority of media content is against the programme, although “rich people” have been more or less kept away from it. Criticism still revolves around the source of funding, which might put the state’s financial and monetary discipline at risk.

Legal debate will intensify from now on over how much authority the State Audit Office of the King of Thailand has in resisting a government’s monetarily-risky policy. “One thing is certain,” Senator Chalermchai Fuangkhon was quoted by Thai Post as saying. “The knives are out.”

According to him, many people have been worried by Srettha’s “inability” to stick with an election promise that the bulk of funding would come from greater tax collection and reallocation of duplicated state budgets. Now it seems that a massive state borrowing would be required.

Srettha this weekend expressed confidence that coalition allies would strongly back him over digital wallet, and stated that even the Central Bank had no problems with borrowing. It would be a whole lot better if he didn’t have to say so by himself.

November 12, 2023: Western governments have reacted significantly to what the rest of the world knew for certain two weeks ago and kept warning them about it.

“Far too many Palestinians have been killed. Far too many have suffered these past weeks,”  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in New Delhi. That significantly shifted America’s tone which was normally pro-Israel. The rest of what he said on Friday is virtually a repeat of American rhetoric in use ever since the war began: “We want to do everything possible to prevent harm to them and to maximize the assistance that gets to them.”

CNN has reported about foetuses being pulled from wombs of their dying mothers and children with crushed lungs struggling to breathe.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, called for a ceasefire in Gaza, calling it “the only solution” to the war between Israel and Hamas. Protesters around the world had made the same call for several days, and some were even arrested while doing so.

While Macron said Israel had the right “to protect itself and react” to the October 7 attacks carried out by Hamas, he also said that Israel should comply “with international rules of war and humanitarian international law.” That was also exactly what the protesters said.

Macron added that he hopes other world leaders will join his call for a ceasefire. Word leaders must act, the protesters had said long before he did.

“We share the pain and we do share a willingness to get rid of terrorism. We know what terrorism means in France. But I think there is no justification to attack civilians,” Macron said while speaking to the BBC from the Élysée Palace on Friday, almost a month after thousands rallied across the Arab and Muslim world on October 18 in support of Gaza.

On October 21, About 300 Thai Muslims and Palestinians rallied in front of the Ocean Tower 2 building on Asoke Road in Bangkok, where the Israeli embassy is located, to demand an end to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and the return of the land seized by Israel for the creation of a Palestinian state. With intelligence certainly far less efficient than those of Macron’s and Blinken’s administrations, they warned that “atrocities” were going on and had to be stopped as soon as possible. This is not to mention football stars and fans showing deep sympathy with residents of Gaza.

What will be the western governments’ next steps and how soon they will be taken remain to be seen.

November 11, 2023: The problem of declaring pre-election alliances is there for all to see, manifesting itself in the form dilemmas facing Pheu Thai’s coalition partners and the biggest political party now in the opposition bloc over the digital wallet controversy.

How far should they go in resisting the scheme? That’s a serious question. A funny, hypothetical one is what should they say in Parliament when digital wallet is up for debate. “You said you’d die trying to block it,”Move Forward would likely say. “We didn’t see you complaining about Pheu Thai’s idea back then,” the other side would shoot back.

Move Forward’s dilemma is a little bigger, because while “old-fashioned”political parties can flip-flop just a bit, the biggest party would find it hard to do so for obvious reasons.

It has tested the waters, though. Just after Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced a toned-down version of the scheme, which he insisted would begin next year, Move Forward party-list MP and deputy leader Sirikanya Tansakul started first, tiny jabs. She said the government’s decision to procure loans to fund the digital wallet scheme is risky, because it may violate the Constitution and the Fiscal Discipline Act.

Problem is whatever Move Forward says or will say will be used against what it said in the past (if it did say anything at all). For example, whether a Bt500 billion plan would require state borrowing should have been figured out months ago, not just now.

Cannabis will be next and it will be Pheu Thai’s turn.

November 10, 2023: Certain main details of the digital wallet programme have been changed significantly, but analysts believe a greater review may be unavoidable.

Gone is the “blanket distribution” formula. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced today that the scheme will be launched next May, and every Thai citizen who is 16 or older, who has a monthly income not exceeding 70,000 baht and has no more than 500,000 baht in bank accounts, will be eligible. This means some 50 million Thais will become recipients instead of 54.4 million, and the cost of the entire programme will be Bt500 billion instead of Bt560 billion.

It’s the relatively-small reduction of the cost that makes some analysts suspect that more changes may be in store. Bt500 billion can still pose a major financial burden on the government and be a considerable risk. This is despite the fact that the government has addressed a key part of criticism, which is that rich and poor populations should not be entitled to the same government assistance or generosity.

November 9, 2023: Defending a nation used to be so easy, said Sutin Klungsang in what appears to be a comprehensive analysis of Thailand’s security situation.

In a speech for the National Defence College, the defence minister lists conventional wars like those happening in Ukraine and Israel that can influence the rest of the world; cultural invasions; economic occupations; technological militarization; cross-country crimes; ideological disunity; corruption, inequality, global pandemics and weakened human resources as the main issues affecting a nation’s sovereignty.

In short, he said if everyone thinks only soldiers are responsible for national defence, Thailand is doomed.

“The armed forces alone cannot handle all these, no matter how good the soldiers are,” he said. “National defence is the job for everyone. Inequality can lead to ideological fights which then can lead to fragility, and lack of common cultural values can make it even more fragile. All agencies must come together to deal with all the said problems.”

November 8, 2023: As of early this week, more than 4,100 children have been reportedly killed in Gaza, and more than 1,200 others have been said to be missing and some of them may have been trapped under rubble.

Gaza is said to have one of the youngest populations in the world, with close to 50% under 18. About 65% are reported to be under 24. Children account for more than 30% of those injured in Gaza.

A lot of numbers have been provided by Palestinian health authorities and some cannot be independently verified, but if they are truthful, the number of children killed since the Hamas-Israel conflict began weeks ago has exceeded the number of kids killed annually in armed conflicts globally over the past few years. It can also mean that children were nearly half of Palestinian casualties.

CNN said that, by comparison, 477 children died in Ukraine in 2022, and 83 have died this year as of early last month. The data came from reports compiled by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund has a few days ago said Gaza was turning into a “graveyard of children”.

Child sufferings in the Hamas attacks on October 7 have also been reported in numbers. Scores of young people were killed at a music festival. At least 33 of the Israeli hostages were thought to be children including babies and infants.

November 7, 2023: Move Forward will win little praise for its belatedly-drastic action against Bangkok MP Chaiyamparwaan Manpianjit, but what the biggest party will get is something totally heavy being off its chest.

His expulsion will cool down the growing heat and decrease a perception that can be very damaging in the long run, that Move Forward is hypocritical and might be old-fashioned after all. The political heat is largely a social-media problem which should go away in a matter of days. The perception, on the other hand, has to be dealt with immediately before it takes root and thus makes a lot of people lose faith.

He’s a politician scorned now, though, and that means a lot of things can happen between him and Move Forward from now on. In the big picture, however, unless he possesses some earth-shattering information, it looks like Move Forward has made a reasonable decision to cut its losses.

November 6, 2023: Prachin Buri MP Wutthipong Thonglao, who has been expelled from the Move Forward Party, has decided to spill some beans.

There have apparently been undue interests or benefits related to some people associated with Move Forward and garbage-disposing businesses, he claimed in a social media post over the weekend, remarkably after the expulsion.

“I stopped making news about it after my first talk about it,” he said. “But (some people in the party) are still after me. Or do they want me to lay bare the whole thing?”

As of now, he is talking to the press, too.

That was to be expected under old-fashioned politics. People washed dirty linen in public only when conflicts occurred among them, not because they really cared. Move Forward was supposed to deal with that kind of unhealthy practices when selecting election candidates, and the man is supposed to be a new-age politician who must speak out immediately when something is wrong under his nose.

Sexual allegations aside, Wutthipong let those hoping for better changes down, either through lies about garbage processing or giving belated tips worthy of investigation.

Intentionally-belated whistle-blowing is anything but praiseworthy. Worse still in this case, Wutthipong has not even said what it actually is. He only has been making a threat and suggesting that his suspicion was over a serious matter.

As for the other man, Bangkok MP Chaiyamparwaan Manpianjit of Move Forward, it’s another kind of headache for both the public and the biggest party, which is under pressure to kick him out just as it did in Wutthipong’s case. For now, Chaiyamparwaan seems to stick to being an unapologetic sexual harassment suspect, and Move Forward must be hoping that he would not go down Wutthipong’s road if they expel him, too.

November 5, 2023: Stop it, Arabs say. No, Israel replies. We are working on it (exactly on what nobody is quite certain), the United States claims. Is nobody caring about us anymore, Ukraine asks.

That is the latest news from nations involved, or invested, or intoxicated, or ill at ease regarding the Gaza situation, in which toddlers, babies and their mothers are still crammed in tight, bombarded areas, their cries competing with diplomatic chaos which seems to be dragging on and on.

BBC quoted a UN update as stating that nearly 1.5 million people in the territory are being internally displaced, with more than 710,000 sheltering in facilities run the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Overcrowding is causing “severe health and protection risks” for displaced people, the UN says, as well as taking a heavy toll on their mental health. Also, it says damage to water and sanitation infrastructure is adding to public health risks, the BBC reported.

The network said that, according to local Hamas authorities, hundreds of thousands of people remained in the area of ​​Israeli military operations in Gaza City and the cities and villages of the north, where the humanitarian situation is getting worse due to cuts in water, electricity and internet services.

Suhier Al Louh, a mother of seven in the north, told the BBC: “We drink unclean water. We eat one meal every day – mainly canned tuna or canned beans.

“Sometimes I cook some lentils on an old wood-burning stove. We have solar panels on the roof so we can charge our phones.”

Ceasefire calls are mounting and some of them have been sent directly to the United States, which reportedly feared that the Hamas could regroup if Israel stops shooting entirely. Washington’s best-of-both-worlds approach is continuing, with US President Joe Biden claiming there has been some progress in attempts to secure a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting.

His secretary of state, Antony Blinken has been working on the same issue, White House says. Arab nations’ pleas for the bombardment to end immediately, however, have been noted but not quite heeded.

On another part of the world, Russia and Ukraine must be treating decreased attention differently. The Israel-Gaza war is “taking away the focus” from the conflict in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky has admitted.

He said the focus shifting elsewhere was “one of the goals” of Russia, which launched an invasion of Ukraine early last year.

November 4, 2023: All Star Wars fans know why Darth Vader was born: His mother was killed.

This is not to say that Israel would return to be a Jedi. This is to echo United Nations aid agencies’ joint statement that newborns, women and children are “disproportionately bearing the burden” of the war in Gaza, just like the helpless innocents killed by Anakin Skywalker who sought to wreak vengeance on a band of bad guys who had tortured and killed his mother. That was before he completely joined the dark side.

“The bombardments, damaged or non-functioning health facilities, massive levels of displacement, collapsing water and electricity supplies as well as restricted access to food and medicines, are severely disrupting maternal, newborn, and child health services,” the UN agencies said.

The statement, CNN reported, was released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

CNN said many pregnant women aren’t able to access the medical care they need, and maternal deaths are expected to increase.

This won’t stop unless all the hostages are freed, Israel, whose origin was as humble as that of Anakin Skywalker, says.

November 3, 2023: American politics might play a big role on how long the Russia-Ukraine war will last.

Military analyst Sean Bell told Sky News that Russia was very unlikely to seek an end to the conflict before a US presidential election next November, as any sign that US support to Ukraine will wane could “create renewed optimism and hope in Moscow that Russia’s military objectives can be achieved.”

As we all know, Donald Trump and Joe Biden do not see eye to eye over what’s happening in eastern European. Election campaign clashes between the Republican and Democratic parties, therefore, could influence public opinions. One party might want to attack “wrong” political priorities and the other might seek to soften stance and focus more on domestic needs.

The Israel-Hamas conflict is also having influences over the Ukraine war, suggested the analyst. The world’s media’s attention is shifting, potentially along with large-scale military support from some big powers, he said. This must worry Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been very effective at harnessing the power of global media to focus attention on Ukraine’s plight, with regular visits to Western nations to secure additional military and financial support.

November 2, 2023: Both supporters and critics of the biggest party alike agreed that while the expulsion of an MP embroiled with sex-related charges sent a good message, the treatment of another MP facing more or less similar allegations who narrowly escaped eviction did not.

Move Forward, the critics say, has done what a Thai saying teaches people not to do. It “kills a buffalo but does not want to lose too many chillies.” The result is an awkward taste. The party cannot be totally praised or criticised, and it has lost an MP. Bad investment in other words.

Chaithawat Tulathon, the Move Forward leader, implied that nothing could have been done to make it better. Expulsion requires votes, so if votes got rid of one MP but saved another, then so be it, he suggested.

November 1, 2023: And we thought nothing beats the last scene of “Friends”_  the empty apartment room _ when it comes to being profoundly sad.

The passing away on Saturday of the man who played the Chandler Bing character, Matthew Perry, has helped put things into perspective. The empty room now will carry much more significance because one of its wittiest, funniest and most cutely-romantic occupants has gone for real. We thought the room in that scene couldn’t look emptier, but it does, now.

He was part of an epically-simple comedy series watched and re-watched and watched some more the world over. Plots were so down-to-earth yet most heart-warming. “I’ll be there for you” are not just lyrics put there to make a good introductory song; they are the series’ most important theme that recurs throughout the years-long show.

People in different cultures may frown upon certain sub-plots, but the biggest value emphasised in “Friends” is universal. Like the five other main characters, Perry helped drive it, and made everyone laugh while doing so. “Hi, I’m Chandler. I make jokes when I’m uncomfortable” was considered one of his best lines.

Watching him crack jokes in “Friends” will never be the same again. If one can bring himself or herself to watching it, that is.

Rest in peace.

 

Daily updates of local and global incidents by Tulsathit Taptim