Wednesday, November 19, 2014

This is interesting: Mangrai was NOT the only one to successfully resist the Mongols!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

local "progress"

Not long ago, a year and a half maybe, in this distinctive little city could be seen massive amounts of cash racing from hand to hand, at banks especially: large bags of bundles thousand-baht notes worth tens of thousands US, getting counted on the electronic machines. Land prices doubled while illegal casinos did so much business that some had to close down, their parking lots full of 'pawned' vehicles they could no longer sell in newly saturated Shan State. Everyone was so rich you couldn't even get illegal immigrants to work for minimum wage. Cheap housing was going up at a rate not seen since the 1997 'Thaitanic' crash, but somehow we didn't get a resurgance of nice restaurants or bars, art or handicraft shops, or boutiques. The day of the 'spa' has come and mostly gone, but coffee-shops and bakeries with minimal offerings ubiquitous, massage parlors and opticians are everywhere... just nothing that really requires work. Some road-work was done, but narrow lanes and potholes remain the norm.

Just north of Ban Du (the north side of Amphoe Muang) at Ban Pa Ha, are many new houses, some in 'developments' of small units, a few costly and large. There's a bit of interesting architecture, including an old, raised two-story teak house with ornate galae roof decorations (but it seems to be falling apart), and a small place with plate-glass framed by heavily varnished uncut wood still in the shape of the trees it came from. Just east of there, construction of a wide divided highway has commenced, but judging by the speed of other road-work, it will take years to become usable. It's to go to Chiang Saen, the same road that goes by the entrance to the airport and south to near the new HomePro, which will be extended on south - going I don't know where... Nan or perhaps as an alternate route to PhaYao? One would expect that the ChiangRai 'discussion group' forums might provide information on development plans, progress and these kind of changes, but so far I haven't noticed any. A rumor spread to me of plans for a new department-store complex in Ban Du, to include another Big C (the one we have, despite being right across the highway from the new Central/Robinson complex, has insufficient parking, as also does Central!). But it seems to me that locals go to Big C and Central as much to see and be seen as to spend. Lots of little, inexpensive restaurants have opened, but they seem not well patronized, and I wonder if soon we won't be seeing lots of the money-washing businesses close.

With less crime, the government making banks act cautiously about money washing, less tourism, less disbursement of funds by the lovelorn to local lasses, less donation to charities, less arms sales to tribal armies in Myanmar, less gambling, less foreign aid coming in (no Cobra Gold war games, fewer foreign navy ships docking in Pattaya), less from concerns like the Rockerfellow Foundation, less profit from drug dealing, less spent in bars, less spent in restaurants, less brought in by expats looking to settle and invest, less naievely invested by a huge variety of mobsters, some semi-legit, and far less paid out to protestors, well, the water-pressure at the money pump just simply looks kind of low these days.

I suppose the new highway is meant to imporve the financial picture. But looking at maps to try to make sense of the new highway from the airport to ChiangSaen, I fail. Maybe the new road will join Highway 1209 to ThaKhaoPluak, but from there it'd have to turn to Doi Luang, an OK country road, then 1271 to Chiang Saen. For what? Access to casinos? To lure Chinese customers who come for the casions to go on further, to Amphoe Muang?

The road to Kunming is through ChiangKhong, not ChiangSaen, and the small roads in Laos from the other side of the Mekhong from Chiang Sai (Hwy 2) are much smaller than Hwy 3 to LuangNartha (then up to Kunming or down to LuangPrabang). And Hwy 3 is the only major thru-fare there.

So what, I wonder, is the expensive new road really about? Utilizing budgeted monies? Kickbacks? Taksin's plan for a "special economic zone" in ChiangSaen?

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists will purportedly drive down, annually, but already not only are they unwelcome in ChiangMai, and don't go there anymore!

Maybe all the little earthquakes, 800 to over 1000 of them since the real one in May, have scared folk off, or at least potential land purchasers, but they seem less dangerous to me than flooding in Bangkok. The hot springs, however, are now definately hotter.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Colorful missionaries and colorful linguistics

"A word means what I mean it to mean, no more and no less."

Something sometimes pulls at my heart-strings: a sort of Swiss Family Robinson scenerio with kids riding ostriches across rope bridges between huge trees - or am I confusing in images from Avatar? maybe better the image of the splendid home in the empty desert badlands of The Searchers (John Wayne!), a lonely White family with porcelin china in a grand log manison where no trees grew, and with bags of gold coming from afar... let's remember, the Lisu and Lahu, like many other tribes, most certainly DID have their communication/exchange routes across international boundaries, much as they always had had across cultural ones. And more power and respect to them for that.
Anyway, there's a story from around here of European-descent folk walking over mountains and through sub-Himalayan tropical jungle into Burma, where they built homes of local materials at hand, found food from nature, and raised kids who cavorted with local tribespeople. More on that story in a bit.
Anthropologists like Napoleon Chagnon and American researcher Kenneth Good (who married a Yanomami girl and had kids by her, one of whom recently returned from New Jersey to the Upper Amazon jungle of his mother, whom he found happily re-integrated there) may have lived quite primively with close-to-the-earth peoples like the Yanamamo, but always with thought of return, hope for accomplishment, sense of connection back to what they came from... to lose that would be not only to lose self-image, but to lose hope, health, reason to go on, ability to return... things the Morse/Swiss-family Robinson family did NOT lose.
So often we think of our "gestalt" over-view as correct, in accord with fact, the only reasonable approach to things, forgetting about language changing, as things do (especially vernacular speech), not only in relation to context, but to mood and time of life. Some prefer to call this context "narrative" (as followers of Theories of Literary Criticism will have it), or attitude, belief, pre-conceived somewhat unconscious notions cherished in dreams, fantasy and endearments used between loved ones.
Science, quite like math, or maps, doesn't apply to all we experience, and language reflects that, too.

A while back (July, 2008), I wrote this for internet consumption:
The Summer Institute of Linguistics and the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) have done extensive translating work, to convey the Word of God (as they see it). Summer Institute’s first president, Kenneth L. Pike (served 1942-1979), developed a system of linguistic analysis in the 1950s and applied it to the description of a very large number of hitherto unrecorded languages. Encyclopedia Britannica explains, “Tagmemics differs from alternative systems of grammatical analysis in that it defines the basic units of language (tagmemes) as composite elements, one part being the “slot,” or “function,” and the other the “filler,” or “class.” For example, one such tagmeme, at the syntactic level of analysis, might be the noun-as-subject (in which the noun is a class that “fills” the subject “slot” in a construction).”
What interests me here is the concept of word, or basic unit of language. Like number, it may be a concept of quite more limited viable applicability in the real world than is commonly acknowledged. When teaching, as I occasionally do, I find things hardly so cut and dried. My young sister-without-law fails to grasp the concept, similarly as she fails to grasp the sounds of English language. She’s not trying to be difficult or lazy – the correspondences we, who grew up in Western society, so easily assume, simply do not really exist. For her, and for many others.
In one place, a letter, in English or any other language, will have one sound, in another, another. In one place, a ‘word’ will appear in one way, in another, another. Syllables, parts of speech, suffixes, prefixes – it’s simply not the same in all languages. In all, parts make greater wholes, and there may be something like sentences, even paragraphs, but I well remember a guy trying to get the message of his Indian guru put into written Thai, demanding that the Thai words be separated. It simply couldn’t be done!
We like a sense of unity, indivisibility – but, where in the perceptible world does it actually, unequivocally exist? It doesn’t. No atom, nor indivisible particle. No unarguably distinct boundaries. No absolute correspondence between map and thing mapped… though certainly some alphabets suit some languages better than others. The Bible (pra-kam-phii in Thai, meaning respectable or revered word of scripture; profound treatise) will surely deliver a more than slightly altered message in different languages (which are always variant ways of looking at things). Not to denigrate faith, work on translation which helps people to communicate, or teaching in general, do I present this quandary, but rather to analyze what we are doing when we assert ourselves. We certainly sometimes anticipate, or desire, responses different than results we actually incur. This is normal.
We find it easy to assume that things actually are as we see them, and so, that others can discover the same truth we try to act upon. But systems apply only within contexts – as Russians found in trying to bring communism to Mongolia, and the USA is beginning to find trying to bring ‘democracy’ to the Mid-East. Mongolia had no ‘oppressed’ proletariat, and Persians and Arabs might even see leadership more accurately than do hapless citizens of the USA, in bondage to advertising.
An Akha tribe friend once invited me to her house for Christmas festivities. On the TV was a show of Bible stories, set, naturally, in a desert. I saw no correspondence between what was presented on the screen and life in the ‘Christian’ village around me. On the other hand, I did notice there, as I had noticed long before in Korea, a distinct correspondence between acquiescence to ‘membership’ and ‘belief’ and access to otherwise unavailable material ‘goods’!

Matthew McDaniel of Akha Heritage Foundation wrote at that “There is Youth With a Mission, New Tribes Mission, and a host of others, all hidden from the eye, unless you have done years of research, a huge mission picture, millions of dollars in trucks, compounds, salaries, budgets, but the villages are dying without representation and without a penny. They have no rights and the people are being destroyed and the missions are helping it be done.”
His comments on Paul W. Lewis, Bill and Gordon Young (the “Young Dynasty” – were they all CIA, as has been claimed?), the Meese and Morse families, Rose Martinez, and Dr. Edwin McDaniel, who Matthew McDaniel (any relation?) says helped Dr. Paul Lewis (author with wife Elaine of the wonderful “Peoples of the Golden Triangle” – and now in retirement in Claremont, California) sterilize more than 20,000 Akha women in Burma’s Eastern Shan State… seem pretty derogatory, but with some strong base in truth. He wrote, “witnesses are afraid to speak out against Paul Lewis publicly, stating that he is a very powerful man and that they fear people who continue to get money under the table from his Baptist related organizations will retaliate against them.” Dr. Lewis, though, says, “I helped between 300 and 350 Akha women from Burma receive an operation they greatly wanted and needed. They were most anxious to have the operation because they could not take care of the children they already had.” Also, “For over 40 years I gave my life and talent to help these people in every way possible, but I always worked WITH them, and sought to turn over all aspects of the work to them as quickly as possible. In regard to the family planning program, I turned all of that over to the Thai Government at the end of our seven and a half years of service.” Anonymous Akhas reportedly replied, “They killed the best of our people… accepted it like a fish which sees the bait but not the hook.” And, “The book called “People of the Golden Triangle” which has sold thousands of BOOKS in many languages must have made him some name and some money. Does he deny he made great name off us, but lives safely while we still die?” And certainly, during Taksin Chinawat’s “drug war” many did die – at least one in every tribal village. According to a North Thailand mission (EDEN Center – Serving God’s People through Evangelism, Development, Education and Nurture) website, after the Communist takeover of China in 1949, the Morse family mission “had to evacuate all personnel from their stations. J. Russell Morse fell into the hands of the Communists and was imprisoned in solitary confinement for 15 months. The mission forced to flee in North Burma.
“The years between 1950-1965 saw the work firmly established in North Burma. During the early 1950s, the mission helped settle over 20,000 Lisu and Rawang Christians onto the Putao plains. Over thirty model villages were established in the process, all of them interconnected with excellent roads and bridges.
“Swamps were drained off to fight malaria-infested mosquitoes while new land was opened up for agriculture. Citrus trees from North America were brought in and grafted onto native lemon stock which resulted in significantly improving the health of the population. Schools were started to provide education for the children of the first generation of Christians. In many respects, this period in the history of the mission was the most productive and rewarding.
“Between 1966-1972, the mission was… forced to pull up stakes and move out of its field of ministry… The mission was ordered to leave the country by midnight December 31, 1965. When it became apparent that the mission was not going to be able to meet the deadline, the group made the decision to walk out overland to India.
“This began a seven year wilderness experience as the mission became completely cut off from the outside world. Jungle survival was the new name of the game as the Morses and thousands of native Christians struggled to live off the land. The group eventually carved out self contained villages in the wilds, where community life was allowed to be guided by Christian principles.
“A real sense of peace and harmony prevailed throughout this new community until the Burmese government stumbled across the lost villages in early 1972. The missionaries were rounded up and removed to lower Burma. The Morses now became guests of the military government and spent the next three months at the Mandalay Central Prison before they were allowed to leave the country.” The site claims most of the villages in the Hidden Valley area have now reverted back to jungle, but citrus trees planted by J. Russell Morse, which once eased local malnutrition, still thrive. Also, there are "herds of elephants that seem to deliberately tiptoe around the fruit trees as if they too want to keep the trees alive."
“Since 1973, the mission has been based in Thailand. In Thailand… concentrated primarily on establishing churches among the Lisu, Lahu and Akha hill people. The mission is involved in a broad range of ministries that include church planting, village development work, Bible translation and literacy work, Christian literature production, promoting preventive health and sanitation, introducing alternative crops and agricultural techniques, children’s education, and leadership training.” See also: Eugene Morse, “Exodus To A Hidden Valley” (Cleveland: William Collins Publishing Co., 1974); Gertrude Morse, “The Dogs May Bark…But The Caravan Moves On” (Joplin: College Press, 1998) and Mischa Berlinski, “Fieldwork” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007).

Progress (in Thai, khwam-khao-na, stepping forward, or jarern, to grow, prosper, thrive, advance, increase, and thus, also, jarern-khao-na…), or, if you prefer, development (gan-pattana, advancement), may be less valuable concepts than adaption (gan-prap-tua, especially about sapap-wetlom, the state of the environment). Adapting to circumstances may not get one closer to any goal, other than extending life’s goodness. And life’s goodness isn’t about possessing, or winning, or even achieving, but about interacting pleasantly, sharing good moods, absorbing delicious nutrition and enjoying pleasant rest. Things, and entertainment, don’t teach a child to interact pleasantly; guidance by the well-adapted does. Rich kids are often desperately hungry – sullen, angry, demanding and arrogant. That’s not happy. Nor can teaching through words make them so; only by example can they learn the satisfactions of giving, sharing, and being part of something greater than the illusory self. The Morse family, to live in the jungle, must have had something to share other than words from a BOOK. And that kind of faith is good. Missionaries may usually cause more damage than good – that depends on how one looks at things. But the temptations of the modern were going to arrive and be there, missionaries or no… and few have proven readily able to adapt to their temptations! By living so much higher than those they preach to, the worse missionaries may even have provided an exceptionally instructive example… Certainly not all affected by them have become greedy!


Local expat internet "discussion-group" forum trolls who hide behind pseudonyms didn't take to it very well (one eventually commenting, "Do we need to eat this can of worms?" see file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/acer/My%20Documents/morse%20valley/A%20Little%20On%20Linguistics%20-%20Chiang%20Rai%20Forum%20-%20Thailand%20Forum.htm )

J. Russell and Gertrude Morse resigned from the United Christian Missionary Society and launched out as "independent" missionaries, establishing a new base in the Yunnan Province of southwest China (1926; they came in 1921). At the end of 1940, the mission moved its base of operations into the Salween Valley of the Yunnan Province, and remained there throughout World War II. From 1942 to 1945, the two older sons of J. Russell and Gertrude helped Allied forces by organizing a network of ground search and rescue teams to aid downed airmen. As the many of the search and rescue teams consisted of native Christians who carried the Bible with them as they traversed "the Hump" area in search of surviving pilots, the missionaries and Lisu Christians came into increasing contact with new groups, including the Rawang people of northern Burma who later became a major force in cross-cultural church proselytization. By 1946, the Christian population within the mission's area of work was reportedly almost 6,000.
The Communist takeover of China in 1949 disrupted this proselytization; the mission had to evacuate all personnel from their stations. J. Russell Morse was captured by Communists and imprisoned for 15 months. The mission and many Lisu Christians fled to North Burma, where they found it wise to avoid notice by the Burmese government, and miraculously, it seems, were able to do so.
Since 1973, the mission has been based in Thailand, concentrating primarily on establishing churches among the Lisu, Lahu and Akha hill peoples. It's involved in a broad range of activities, including "village development work, Bible translation and literacy work, Christian literature production, promoting preventive health and sanitation, introducing alternative crops and agricultural techniques, children's education, and leadership training."
While it's nice to imagine Morse children palying with Lisu children in the arboreal wilds, I wonder, were the Morse family entriely cut off from modern civilization during their stay at Hidden Valley? I've no details, but reason for doubt.
Tales of Morse adventures are told at length in Gertrude Morse's "The Dogs May Bark: But the Caravan Moves on" (the title apparently from an old Arab proverb about the lowly making noise in the face of manifest progress) of their time in China, and son Eugene Morse's, "Exodus to a Hidden Valley" (1974); but I've not found access to those books (they're available over the internet, but shipping to Thailand is tricky, and I'm unconvinced ordering would be worth what would be involved).

So far, all very fine and well, it would seem.

"Akha News Service" (Matthew McDaniel, then of) Maesai, Chiangrai, Thailand, reported, March 15, 1999, on:
Sterilization and Blood Theft Perpetrated Against Akha People by American Baptist Missionary:

Rumored widely for many years witnesses have now stepped forward who claim that the American Baptist Missionary Paul Lewis sterilized more than 20,000 Akha Hill Tribe women in Burma's Eastern Shan State alone, running his operation on trust that he had built as a missionary and student of their culture.
This project was done secretly without the approval of the Burmese Government by requiring the women to come into Thailand for the procedure, using many people in the Baptist Church hierchy to organize the movement of the trusting women, who now claim they had little education as to what the long term effect on their lives would be. Government leaders in this region of Burma now know about the project and say that it was illegal in that it did not have Burmese government approval or proper documentation that the rights of the women were not being violated.
Although Burma is much maligned for human rights violations, activities of western organizations such as this appear to be disregarded by the same agencies which make the human rights reports.
In addition witnesses now verify the rumor that blood was simultaneously stolen from these women for resale. Taken during the sterilization procedure blood was collected in amounts of 200 and 300 ml. Attending family members or friends of the women were witness to this as well. Women who received local anethesia only saw for themselves that the blood was being taken. They did not know why the blood was being taken out of their arm at the same time as the rather unrelated surgery.
The women were only paid for the cost of the truck to come down to the clinic where they would be sterilized just south of the border in Thailand.
There was no follow up care and even to this day in this region of Burma medical care is very difficult to come by for the poor.
Of the more than 20,000 who witnesses say were sterilized in Burma alone, they say that more than 3,000 women died. Many developed a weakened condition, began loosing weight, the pain related to the surgery did not subside and in the end they died. These deaths ranged from a period of time ranging in two months after the surgery to three years.
In a past video interview Paul Lewis claimed that any pain related to the surgery was simply phsycosomatic and that the sterilizations were the right thing to do and "should be done".


Information from Matthew McDaniel, an apparently somewhat self-serving Colonel Kurtz type (as from Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now), a very anti-missionary missionary who dressed his wives far better than other locals could ever hope to afford (from donations to his cause) while maintaining a sexist, autocratic and domineering position through which he is reported to have terrorized volunteers and even his own family, for half a decade now permanently exiled from Thailand, his children's home country, can be taken as suspect, but he, although sometimes wrong, is no liar.
Paul and Elaine Lewis, authors of the wonderful "Peoples of the Golden Triangle" began as missionaries in Kengtung, Shan State, Burma, 1957-1966. Paul Lewis also produced an English-Lahu-Thai dictionary. After 1968 the Lewis family served in Northern Thailand for the Board of International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches.
McDaniel also reported on the case of Bobby Morse, a descendent of J. Russell and Gertrude, and his purported rape of hill tribe girls, investigated and perhaps tried (?) in Chiangmai, which I'll suggest as evidence of how many, if not most, missionaries really stood in relation to their "natives." They're not really to be treated as family, having not the wisdom guns and the Bible have given some of us, I suppose. Bobby may or may not have raped, but he clearly made soem pretty bitter enemies.
Regularly I witness missionaries spending lots of money, for instance in restaurants other expat "farang" choose not to afford, and at home supply stores offering luxuries real locals can only be amazed at, not yet knowing at all how to use. The Christians and other "volunteers" get to enjoy travel, the exotic (including beaches!) and each others' company, while patting themselves on the back for the good they do.
Missionary fashions change, as fashion does, and is turned now in a big way to "orphanages" like the one behind our property, which explains the frequent absence of children there on their all having gone to visit their parents.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A very short history

Cyrus (a Latinized form derived from a Greek form of the Old Persian Kūruš) the Great, Cyrus II, conquered most of Southwest Asia plus much of Central Asia and the Caucasus, making the largest empire the world had yet seen; but he respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered and established a government that worked well, much to the advantage of its subjects. He was preceded as king of Persia by his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. His father and son were named Cambysus, from which name that of the rulers of Angkor, the Khom, derives.
Ancestors of Darius, Xerxes and Cyrus the Great came down from rugged mountains east of Persia and Babylonia, perhaps soon after 1000 BCE. Like others did so many times from Manchuria, Altai, Mongolia and Tibet, they used larger stature and greater physical strength to overcome an agricultural people, and make a new empire. Most likely Gautama Buddha was a Khom descendent, more likely from Pakistan than Nepal.
Cambysus II died just west of Egypt, in a sandstorm that destroyed his army, but Khom descendents (and other Aryans) had already gone to northwest India, influencing not only the caste system (especially the Bramin and Kasytria castes), but also Pali and Sanskrit languages. The magic of language and commerce became the backbone of social distinction and authority in the sub-continent and coastal Southeast Asia, and an extensive maritime system, the Srivijaya 'Empire', arose, demonstrating more of the Khom organizational and administrative expertise. It had centers at Ligor (now Nakorn SriThammarat) and Borabadur, and extended from Madagascar to Cochin China (Vietnam). The Srivijayan empire, a commercial empire of manner utilized later in the earlier days of the Dutch and British East India companies, mainly exercised its influence around coastal areas of Southeast Asia, for trade (in which it was highly successful). About 770 CE, perhaps a decade after, Srivijian Khom prince "Jayavarman II" abandoned Khom antecedent principals, first usurping a name and then an empire. He proclaimed independence for Kambuja from Javanese (Srivijian) dominion, and established rule over local people, something his Srivijarian compatriots had been reluctant to attempt. He was most likely able to accomplish this through utilization of a '5th column' of already in-place Khom traders working the Lower Mekhong.
Wikipedia reports, "The most valuable inscription concerning Jayavarman II is the one dated in 1052 AD, two centuries after his death, and found at the Sdok Kak Thom temple in present day Thailand. 'When His Majesty Paramesvara came from Java to reign in the royal city of Indrapura,…Sivakaivalya, the family’s learned patriarch, was serving as his guru and held the post of royal chaplain to His Majesty,' states the inscription, using the king’s posthumous name. In a later passage, the text says that a Brahman named Hiranyadama, 'proficient in the lore of magic power, came from Janapada in response to His Majesty’s having invited him to perform a sublime rite which would release Kambujadesa [the kingdom] from being any longer subject to Java.' The text also recounts the creation of the cult of the devaraja, the key religious ceremony in the court of Jayavarman and subsequent Khmer people."
Angkor thrived for centuries, bedazzling locals with mysterious rituals, symbols, incantations and other exotic imports, then fell due to too few masters (less than one) per hundered slaves, plus a lack of, or at least insufficient, middle class (not Black Plague or Tai invasions or water problems, as have been claimed, although those might have contributed). One of the last of the Khom rulers, Ramkamhaeng of Sukotai, had an extensive economic (mostly pottery) empire which allowed him and his peers to envision uniting various cultural legacies, legacies influenced by the Khom and Srivijara (Mon, Malay, Lao, Shan, Khmer) cultures. With combining new realities (more inland influence, increased trade with China, increasingly perceived need for well-trained soldiers) into a new set of 'traditions' based on magic and pyrmidal social structuring, the new Tai/Siamese polity was able to successfully comptete with the equally multi-ethnic Burmese and Vietnamese kingdoms.

When, about 1350, a trading port for a new empire to replace Angor was founded at Ayudhaya, it's law utilized the ancient Brahmin Laws of Manu, which state, "Do not let the producing classes, the lowest castes, accumulate wealth. Dispossess them of their wealth as soon as they may gain it. They are there to serve the higher-caste people.” Despite retaining the weaknesses of Angkor, by propping the system up through advances recieved from Chinese, Indian and Persian influences, Ayudhaya was able to become the largest metropolis in the world - for a while.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The 2014 Thai Coup

The 2014 Thai Coup Thailand's had some weird problems of late, but one can't learn all that much by reading elsewhere about them.
Over 200 days of protests, with many of the protesters receiving not only food, but cash - how much money was that? And the meaningless election, how many votes were bought, for how much? Surely we're not going to know exactly, but some things we can figure. Thousands of protesters, paid $10 to $30 (in baht, naturally) and sometimes even more per day (Red Shirts paid more than Yellow Shirts, maybe over twice as much per person), "community radio" stations with a variety of workers, protest guards, cooks and support facility workers (someone put up the port-a-johns, someone emptied them)... the Reds issued ID cards, contracted for buses, set up paramilitary camps... there'd also have been payments for gas and electricity used. In all, the two factions, in the time of protests against PM Yingluck, must have cost (to some someones, somewhere, or, more likely, some groups, hard to locate) well over 220 million US$. Yingluck's big brother Thaksin didn't pay half or even a quarter of that out of pocket, he's simply not that kind of man, to spend what? maybe 5% of his fortune, in less than a year, especially while knowing more heavy expenditures would soon be required also? The election alone cost a fortune in bribes (millions got the equivalent of $10 or more), and Thaksin must have anticipated that more would be needed for the next one too. More importantly, he needs money for the protection of himself and his family, having acquired so much hatred and so many enemies. Money is what he's been doing all this for! So, no, most of it what was spent on support of the Red Shirt faction wasn't Thaksin's money, and it didn't come from donations, like at least some Yellow Shirt money did (certainly not all - they too must have had extremely well-heeled outside support). And if it had, might not one expect that reports of the influx of funds from him would have been announced by the new government by now?
But who else, with an interest in the outcome of that extensive charade, could have afforded to finance it? Some like to insinuate that it was rivals within the palace, so royal money, but I find that absurd. That's also a subject unwise to pursue, and I find it no more than a red herring. There's something else that makes too much more sense.
Ever since WWII, there's been a lot of mystery money flowing around Thailand, and extensive documentation points to the CIA behind a lot of it. The US secret services, sponsored as much by Wall Street moguls as by Congress, if not more so, have been desperate to contain not only the "communist menace" but the influence of "overseas Chinese" - those brilliant money-men who have done so much to create lively economies in Southeast Asia. Ex-PM Thaksin can be seen as as much Chinese as Thai, but his money is newer money, his people a rival to more established Chinese groups who also find themselves in a position of rivalry to US business interests (both "above-board" and illicit).
After much thought, I have decided that elements intimately associated with the CIA paid the Red Shirts, and others intimately associated with triads, or tongs, or even legitimate Chinese businessmen of international stature, the Yellows. The problem was never simply a struggle between classes of Thais, between Bangkok high society and Isaan peasantry, as so repetitively portrayed in the media. That idea is absurd, and easy to dispense with. Who was most hurt by Shinawatra policies? Clearly, Isaan farmers, who weren't given promised payments for their rice. So why did they support the Reds? Not because, as often claimed, of improved health care, but because of cash payments - for votes, for protest activity, for proclamation of Red Villages. They were poor, hungry and bought. It's as simple as that.
Thaksin, from what I read, close to the Carlyle Group and supportive of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which most non-1%ers (Wall St associated super-elites) who are aware of it are NOT, has had support from those who have bought the USA government. And they, certainly, have plenty of money to pursue their agenda. But clearly, some on their silent services payroll realized that they were backing the wrong side, much to the detriment of the possibility of achieving their goals (for instance, containing China). The populist while pro-GlobalCorp policies of the Shinawatra administrations had most certainly not helped. And so, somehow, payments slowed to a near stop, and "coincidentally" just afterwards, the Thai army ended the protests, without violence or even much vociferous complaint (certainly compared to the heavily vociferous complaints common here for at least five years now). A few still protested at Bangkok's prominent protest spots, but oddly, there were only about 4 "protesters" to every Western "journalist" - and many of the very few hundred remaining "protesters" were noticeable drunk, feeble or clearly confused. But somehow the "journalists" didn't much report on that, or, indeed, on anything. For they, too, were only going to say what they were paid to say. And they certainly haven't been paid to say that extra-national influences are to blame for the whole debacle; no, most certainly not helped what was meant to be a showpiece economy.
Thailand is supposed to be a shining beacon of hope, an example of the superiority of the "Western" way over travesties like the "Burmese Road to Socialism" or whatever THAT was. But the Thai economy has never added up, hidden forces have clearly been at play, and the problems that resulted in the "Thaitanic" collapse of 1997 were about to recur. No more are lots of nice little restaurants to be found, instead, there are a plethora of easy-to-establish small-businesses requiring but little expertise, only lots of ready cash (relatively lots, for the people involved, anyway; cash from too easy credit, or, I suspect, from money washing): "coffee shops", laundromats, opticians, copy shops, bakeries and hand-phone shops, while also a tremendous boom in construction of shop-houses, just like before 1997. Household debt is unsustainably high, and once again, lending institutions look to be precariously positioned. Something HAD to be done. People's expectations had been raised. The plethora of cash had been around for a while, when suddenly, at a time when some people were openly calling for revolution or secession, and violence had already been happening, the boom was over. Someone, somewhere, noticed, and payments to Red Shirt protesters suddenly, abruptly dried up. Then almost overnight, after years of economic folly, Thailand had a government clearly willing to utilize economic sense. Is that not to Wall Street's advantage? Maybe not as much as to the advantage of their Chinese rivals. But the babbling verbiage of John Kerry and the pretend "US ambassador to Thailand" (who wouldn't meet with coup leaders when other foreign dignitaries invited did, due to a "previous engagement") are just for show, for a pretend consistency (you know, for "democracy" and "freedom" and against military coups). Puppets have been putting on an act, the act must change, and not only the US is destined to come around.
What's most offensive is an apparent belief that all of the above would somehow escape notice, as if the oft-repeated platitudes of popular media would be enough to satisfy. But they aren't. They simply are not. Enquiring minds demand to know, and the information is out there, for those who can do a bit of simple arithmetic. It's been a battle between gigantic economic foes.
But now justice is winning in Thailand. Not "democracy" (which has become simply too often just about money anymore). Justice.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Great Lunch Places for Chiangrai visitors

Ran Poh Jai, on Soi JetYod, behind the WangKhom Hotel, specializes in the wonderful Northern Thai chicken and noodle dish Khao Soi Gai, and there's is the best anywhere! Great price and fast service too. Moo Yang (bar-b-q pork), pork rinds and a variety of other quick and tasty Northern dishes.
Nakorn Pathom, on Pahonyothin Road just south of Pratu Sir, the town's center-main 4-way intersection, and just across from the Thai Air office (near the mouth of the Night Bazaar but never operating simultaneously), has excellent Khao Man Gai (chicken and rice) and Khao Moo Daeng (red pork on rice with sauce), plus free Chinese tea and leeks. Good prices, excellent service.
Nice Kitchen, across from Wat JetYod, offers both Western and Thai dishes. Good breakfasts, great KhaoPhat fried rice, pleasant atmosphere.
La Cuisine, across form the Wiang Inn on Pahonyothin Road, is simply excellent. Short waits for good pepperoni pizza!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Some frustrations, and another visit to the borderlands

The magnificent Mister Taksin Chinawat said he'd bring Thailand into the 1st World, but did nothing to imporve education.
Today we decided to fix some window screens, as the weather is warming. The screens are held in by a long rubber/plastic strip which fits into a groove in the frame. The front door screen needed fixing too, but we found the door's screen-anchoring strip glued in. No need for that at all - the company's young employees simply didn't know what they were doing, and created a lot of really hard, really difficult extra work. The strip almost broke several times, and bits of it were left glued to the frame. For no purpose whatsoever!
Which called to mind problems we had getting our water system to work: similarly, lots was put into place by kids working cheap for companies that had not really trained them. Of course, school had not taught them anything either.
Yesterday I brought Muay and Jit-jo down from mountain celebrations, but left Surachat and Eugene, who love being with their friends there.
Eugene's teacher says she used to run the school up there; well, I know that there was nothing to run as teachers didn't even show, and kids simply just played games with each other. Thus NaYo learned to draw, even Chinese characters, but didn't learn to read at all until I started her in school down here.
Surachat, in 3rd grade, can no read at all yet, despite "special" after-school classes for a couple of years...
Would that I thought this a Thai problem, but it isn't.

From what I saw of the border area taking my family for Lahu New Year celebrations and then going to pick them up, it seems clear to me that there's been an influx of refugees from Shan State. Many, like my wife's older half-sister, have land to farm there, and not here, and so return periodically. But they feel safer here. The drug epidemic is as active as it has EVER been - and extreme wealth disparity north of the border adds to the danger (as does a prevalence of guns and automatic rifles). Of course, there are lots and lots of kids too. Only about half of the people in MaeFaLuang district have any citizenship... a sad state of affairs. But celebrations were lively, with people in generous moods. Harmony and friendship dominate life (but even the poor lock doors now). Long-time residents have better housing than they used to, but immigrants, especially the more temporary ones, still live in small grass and bamboo huts up upon remote hill-tops. Election signs for the archaic but still-ruling populist party which helped many gain citizenship were common, ones for rival parties were not.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A visual history of religion in a single (blurry) lesson

Something I noticed at an Akha friend's house. Sorry about the blurriness - 1st time I've done a handphone pic all by myself! But this seems to say quite a bit about how religion operates, culturally....

Monday, January 13, 2014

Airplane fish

These sort of trippy, psychedelic, camoflauged pla dood were in our fish pond until yesterday, when the previous owner of our land came to catch catfish. There were some really big catfish, and pla nii, as nobody had bothered them for about a year. Muay says these are large too, and that she wants to release them in the Kok River. She calls them pla kruang bin (airplane fish) and says they can stand up and walk! They must have walked to our pond. Muay says they can stay out of water for over 3 hours.
For 3 years I had a store I called Flying Fish.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Bangkok Political Turbulence

“Weeee are Siamese if you pleeease, we are Siamese if you DON’T please…” (Disney’s 101 Dalmations) was my introduction to things Siamese; a few years later I lived there. Now I’ve taught Thai Social Studies, written local history and guidebooks, and lived here over 20 years. But although I live in Thailand, I have little contact with the Siamese.
One can argue the point, but to me, the Siamese are less than 20 million Central Plains folk who mostly live within 250 kilometers of Bangkok, have some Malay blood and heritage, and revere social hierarchy. Further south along the peninsula people are mostly Malay (except in Nakorn Sri Tammarat and tribal villages), along the Cambodian border they are Khmer (pronounced kah-mae), in Issan Lao and in the north T’ai or tribal. This is not an anthropological treatise, so I won’t belabor the issue. I merely want to suggest that international reportage in the situation here are hampered by limited understanding of context and local opinion.
The Thai, all the people of the country, are governed not by Siamese, but by Chinese, largely Teh Chiew, but also others with roots in Guandong Province, China (aka Canton or Kangtung Province). Thai bureaucracy is headed by a Persian family, the Bunags. There were, of course, generally Thai wives involved, but sense of paternal importance remains strong. The “Sakdi-na” feudalistic system in place for over half a millennium remains strong, almost inflexible, and dangerous to the unconnected. It is the need for greater justice, both economic and social, that is the root of current Thai instability.
Three and a half years ago, I wrote:
A friend thinks Thailand’s “People Power" revolution could lead the world into a new era of social justice. This is but reveling in an intoxicated feeling resultant of accepting being lied to as as valid as anything else. Thai being a highly ambiguous language, well suited for seeming to say opposite things simultaneously, it involves tremendous capacity for deception, as well as for very polite manners (and yes, there is a very definite close relation there).
Are Thai oppressed masses really demanding freedom from an evil dictator? I think not. The “protesters” (or paid agitators) are victims, certainly, but mostly of their own gullibility. Unused to reading, doing even simple math, and blithely unaware of most geography, history and economic theory, they at least have been unwilling to follow the un-elected leaders of their “democracy movement” – although at great social cost, and cost, even to their own health (in particular, from breathing smoke from tires they lit on fire). They know Thaksin wasn’t “democratically elected” – they got paid to vote for him! But that’s OK, they tell themselves; even the Democrats have bought votes.
Whether there are actual facts, or only opinions, it is wise to accept that there are consequences to actions, or non-actions, and to act in accordance with what is likely to result from one’s decisions. The Red Shirts have not done that, primarily because they have become intoxicated with hope, and because they refuse to see that replacing the devil they know with a new silver-tongued devil full of glib promises is hardly overthrowing a system, let alone working for social justice.
Traditionally, different Thai powers have had differing concepts on justice, duty and method, and no singular vision ever became paramount. Clergy, armed services, tax collectors and other bureaucrats, various Chinese groups (merchant and other societies), other foreigners and internal rivals among these various powerful groups have long exerted veiled, but extensive, influence. Privilege was protected, nurtured, cherished and fought for – and Thai politics has generally been a delicate diplomatic juggling show. Much of Thai social structuring has always been a balancing act, keeping peasant farmers and Chinese merchants, border tribes and central bureaucrats, army and police, the powerful and the powerless, able to interact with less friction than has been the norm through much of recorded history, throughout the globe.
Thai courts have often been accused of corruption, as also have army, police, and bureaucracy, as well as other government divisions (the electricity generating monopoly, state railroad department, customs and port authority, immigration and the border patrol); even the Sangha Buddhist clergy officialdom has, too. But as often as not, perhaps, this “corruption” might be said to exist primarily in the eye of the beholder. It’s often been simply the way things are, or were, done, and Thailand has usually exhibited an incredible extent of tolerance.
Telecommunications-tycoon turned Prime Minister Thaksin’s years of success (coming after many business failures and then selling questionable walky-talkies to the police force he was an officer of) involved quiet deal-making that eventually consolidated over a fifth of the national budget under his personal executive authority; he toured the country dishing this out (usually as loans, with interest), thus becoming more important in patronage than long-powerful local MPs, and creating a challenge to the old power system. Thaksin’s main challenge to the power structure involved assault on the long-standing but compromised relationship between authoritarian privilege and mercantilism. The poor wanted a champion, and he pretended to be one for them, gaining power while traveling to India and Burma on public funds to do personal business. While proclaiming support for all, he acted primarily for his own benefit, winning accolades as a mover and shaker, as one who knew how to achieve results.
But much of what he did was based on the work of Chuan Leekpai (especially the much touted, but painfully inefficient, 30 baht public health “scheme”). He did all he could to overthrow checks and balances, and to insure continuation of his power. He was no champion of democracy. The parliamentary process by which the current Democrat coalition came to power is the same process used in Britain; the parliament that voted in this government consists entirely of democratically elected members.
The fanciful, self-serving demands of the “red shirts” have had little to do with “social justice” – they don’t even say what they hope new elections will bring. They could, and should, talk about decentralization, and some have; they could, and should, decry corruption, but in doing so, must also show willingness to share in the burdens a re-making of the social contract would require.
In Bangladesh, “micro-economic” support-groups have helped revive an almost comatose economy, much as overseas Koreans have used the power of the group to finance many small, but nonetheless successful, businesses. Has “community radio” called for that kind of thing here? I think not. This all wasn’t, as claimed, about an elite vs. people they oppress: people who were poor but a generation ago now have access to consumer goods, healthcare, communications and entertainment, and more so than half of the people in our world. Why should Thais be richer than everyone else? Have they worked as hard as people in South Korea?
The Isaan poor engage as much in “kicking dogs” as other people; they complain of being looked down on, but meanwhile look down on others. Not only is there a problem of lack of individual initiative, but one of integrity, honesty, and understanding of principles. That Isaan’s history has been lost has contributed to this, but despite an interesting tradition of separatism, the fiery self-respecting bravery of which I most certainly respect, it is absurd not to acknowledge the problems of Balkanization, and how the ethnic armies of Myanmar undercut themselves through their refusal to effectively unite. Privilege without responsibility is hardly privilege at all. The truth of the matter is that Abhisit is more likely to be of assistance to the tire-burners and other under-privileged Thais than Taksin, or his surrogates, would ever be, as is clear to anyone looking at the situation without hope of personal gain. That the “red shirt” leaders are merely self-serving should be obvious, but the human capacity for self-deception is immense.
The King has said all he’s able to, constitutionally; in calling on supreme court justices to do their duty, he implied that they sometimes have not. The king REIGNS ... he doesn't "rule" – and although he may be the richest of reigning monarchs, and although the royal palace may be run in bureaucratic fashion with typical bureaucratic problems, that seems to me to be something that comes with the territory. Communists like Jit Pumisak and Ho Chi Min were never true followers of Karl Marx, and couldn’t be – there was no oppressed proletariat, just an ancient, and functional, agrarian society based largely on co-operation among villagers. Southeast Asia has always been paternalistic, and every Thai, save for maybe 20 or 30individuals (at most), has a protector. This is not likely to change quickly.
Although the monarchy was overthrown (for questionable reasons) in 1932, resumption of monarchy’s importance in Thai politics soon followed. After Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat took over, through a brilliant and almost entirely non-violent coup, the King was once again firmly in place at the top of the social hierarchy, justified by Sarit through an idiosyncratic ideology based on paternalistic, traditional social and political hierarchy. Instead of emphasizing abstract loyalties to country or constitution, Sarit focused on respect for the monarch, with citizen loyalty as the source of legitimacy for government, the worldly part of a sacred monarchy. Social hierarchy, built up from the masses through the lower bureaucracy to higher officials and monarch, was enhanced, but at the cost of egalitarianism. The king, again at the top of moral, social and political orders, resumed service as the highest supporter of all the country’s religions, and an integrated whole became again effective. Sarit tried to redefine democracy as a system of government, bureaucracy and king, responsive to people’s needs and aspirations. Leaders were to act toward members of society as fathers toward children, concerned for their well being but stern in discipline. A consequent attitude that those in authority need not explain difficult matters to their lessers, brought problems with accountability, consistency and transparency which still hamper Thai efforts to successfully compete in the modern global economy. Sarit is now widely reviled for greed and corruption (while Prime Minister taking for himself and his many, many mistresses perhaps as much as 4% of GNP!); his efforts on behalf of the royal family largely forgotten.
Since World War II Bangkok has grown rapidly, which caused problems with transportation, communication, housing, water supply, drainage and pollution (which Thai language thus had to invent a word for). Tourism rose in importance during the Vietnam War; the city became a popular destination for U.S. military personnel. In the 1980s, nightclubs and sex trade were the world’s wildest. Although prostitution is formally illegal and the number of prostitutes per capita is lower in Thailand than in some other Asian countries, sea-side resorts pander to foreign sex-tourists. To combat gross abuse, underage prostitution and a growing ‘image problem’ the government stiffened penalties in the late 1990s, and problems with “sex-slavery” have been greatly reduced. Amazingly, though, despite a lack of foreign spending during the Red Shirt occupation of central Bangkok, prostitute earnings are reported to have quadrupled during that period. It isn’t hard to guess where the money for that came from, or why.
While their men were disporting themselves, women and children were being told they were in danger of falling into the hands of murderous oppressors, and children were used as “human shields”, told they needn’t be afraid, must be brave for the “cause” – their presence justified to reporters by their parents’ purported desire to "entertain and thrill" them. Paranoia, delusions of grandeur, incessant noisy diversions, and a perverse justification of violence as expression of one’s feelings undermined what otherwise might have become a propagandistic media victory; I doubt the Red Shirt faction can any longer win a national election. Still, the international press has failed to comprehend the issues involved, and seems determined to help destroy what democracy exists here, in the name of democracy – much like the Tea-baggers in the good ol’ USA.
It’s foolish to forget - Taksin has been supportive of despots, the Argentine Juan Peron’s populism didn’t work, that concentration of wealth is sometimes almost accidental (is it merely coincidence that the richest man in the world is currently a Mexican telecommunications tycoon, that fabulously wealthy Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi is also accused of corrupting democratic values, that the “too big to fail” businesses are ruining the world economy?); if media doesn’t correct its conceptual and contextual framework, we might even end up living in a world of urban terrorism not unlike what’s been depicted in Hollywood movies based on Philip K. Dick stories, but in all likelihood, media predictions of continuing violence are greatly exaggerated.
Did red shirt “leaders” (orators?) make suspiciously expensive purchases this year, as has been claimed? Were followers promised financial reward they didn’t receive? How much has resumption of peace resulted from asset freezing? Was Central World well insured and operating at a loss? Was another party involved, and directing (and paying for) paramilitary snipers dressed in black? Is there a significant chance of these questions being satisfactorily answered? Will misguided reporters, and their publishers, make retractions and corrections? As for the last two questions – I doubt it, while at the same time suspecting that real resolution depends at least somewhat on that happening (at least somewhat). More likely, we’ll hear more about projected unrest, unrest due to globalization, governmental ineptitude, and the good side of certain scoundrels.

That was then. Now the demonstrators are the opposing camp, but it seems much the same, and many from many places, “international” people, continue to express extremely confused ideas about “democracy” (which has never really existed anywhere, any more than communism has). The real issue is the power of money, the rule of law, and the stresses of “globalization”! Thais, especially the Siamese, feel threatened, and they are.
In January 2003, Thaksin Shinawatra (pronounced Chin-awat) started a “War on Drugs” to rid the country of drugs - in three months. Human Rights Watch reported 2,275 people killed in that time, failing to acknowledge the murder of thousands of “stateless” or illegal immigrant tribal people in villages throughout the North (at least one in every tribal village). Thaksin’s people laughably claimed that only around 50 were killed by police, the rest being drug traffickers who were being silenced by their dealers and their dealers’ dealers. I have heard many tales of prolonged torture, including days in pits before death. Some killed were patently innocent (one was only 6 years old). Well over 2,800 individuals were killed in the “war on drugs” campaign between 2003-2005; I believe it to have been over 10,000. Whatever the case, Thaksin subsequently admitted that the campaign was a mistake. It was found to be a case of crime against humanity by an independent investigative committee. It did nothing to end the drug problem, which is now in fact worse.
“Self exiled” fugitive Police Lt.Col. Thaksin Shinawatra stands accused of “policy corruption”: infrastructure and liberalization policies that, while legal and of potential benefit to society, not only greatly aided companies owned by his family but also cost the state nearly 30% more than it otherwise should have spent (an additional 400 billion baht, over 13 billion US$). Other examples include the Board of Investment's granting tax breaks worth a total of Bt16.4 billion to Shin Satellite for its iPSTAR project in 2003, and the Transport Ministry's decision the same year to abolish the minimum air fare of Bt3.8 /km when Shin Corp was about to enter into a joint venture with low-cost carrier AirAsia to open a Thai subsidiary. After the 2006 coup, the military junta-appointed Assets Examination Committee froze as much of Thaksin's assets as they could, based on charges of policy corruption. He retained sufficient funds to buy Manchester City football team (called “the poor relation to Manchester United”) for £81.6 million, or US$162 million (in his 3rd attempt to purchase an English Premier League team, following aborted attempts on Liverpool and Fulham).
In January 2007, the Thai government filed a charge against Thaksin and his wife over their purchase of four 772 million baht plots of land from the Financial Institutions Development Fund in 2003, an unrealistically low price. The charge was based on alleged violation of Article 100 of the National Counter Corruption Act, which prohibits government officials and their spouses from entering into or having interests in contracts made with state agencies under their authority. The Assets Examination Committee also accused Thaksin of issuing an unlawful cabinet resolution approving the spending of state funds to buy rubber saplings. In March 2007, the Office of the Attorney-General charged Thaksin’s wife and brother-in-law with conspiring to evade taxes of 546 million baht (US$15.6 million) in a 1997 transfer of Shin Corp shares.
The Assets Examination Committee found Thaksin guilty of malfeasance for obstructing competition by imposing an excise tax on telecom operators (Thaksin’s Cabinet had approved the relevant executive decree in 2003). The court found Thaksin guilty of four out of five policy corruption, and ordered that 46 billion baht be seized. The remaining 30 billion seized remains frozen.
Count 1: Conversion of telecom concession fees into excise charges. Previously, telecom operators had to pay the TOT/CAT a percentage of their revenue as a concession fee (TOT/CAT are state-owned enterprises, although they were going through the process of privatization). The Thaksin government modified this into a system wherein all operators would instead directly pay the government an equivalent excise tax. Judges ruled that this benefited Thaksin’s AIS while harming rival TOT, and thus was an abuse of power.
Count 2: Modification of a revenue sharing agreement on pre-paid mobile services. In 2003 Thaksin changed the concession fees paid by mobile telecom operators to state telecoms such as TOT and CAT. Previously, telecom operators had to pay the TOT a percentage of their revenues for post-paid mobile services. The revenue-sharing percentage of a prepaid-mobile concession agreement between Advanced Info Service (AIS) and state-owned TOT was reduced from 25% to 20%. This resulted in TOT losing B70.2 billion in revenue, including an estimated loss of B14.2 billion from 2001-06 and another estimated loss of B56 billion from 2006-15. Fees, converted into a simple tax, remained much lower, and Shin Corp’s AIS telecom, owned by Thaksin until it was sold to a Singapore State owned company in 2006, benefited the most, being the biggest telecom mobile company in Thailand, thus having had to pay the most in concession fees. An investigation found that Thaksin had abused his authority to benefit his family’s company; the changes made under his administration caused financial losses to two state-owned telecommunications enterprises. Judges ruled that the terms of the pre-paid agreement harmed TOT while benefiting AIS.
Count 3: Modification of mobile roaming agreement. Previously, there were no roaming agreements between mobile operators - subscribers from one operator were not allowed to use services on another operator’s network, thus limiting the growth of the mobile industry. Under the Thaksin government, roaming was allowed, with roaming fees deducted from the revenue that AIS and other operators had to share with TOT and other state enterprises. Essentially, TOT helped AIS shoulder the costs of its subscribers roaming on the mobile networks of other operators. This reduced TOT and CAT’s income while benefiting the operators. However, the judges ruled that it while benefited AIS, it did so to the benefit of AIS’s new owners (Temasek Holdings) rather than Thaksin, and hence was not an abuse of power. A conflict of interest case related to the $2.2 billion tax free sale of Shin Corp to Temasek Holding, a Singaporean Company, remains.
Count 4: Replacement of ThaiCom4 with iPSTAR: A previous government had originally contracted with ShinSat to launch and operate ThaiCom 4 as a backup satellite for ThaiCom 3. Instead, ShinSat negotiated with the Thaksin government to launch iPSTAR, then the largest commercial satellite in history, which it claimed could offer commercial internet services while also providing backup for ThaiCom 3. However, the claim is not technically possible since iPSTAR does not have C-band transponders. Shin Corp's ownership in ShinSat was subsequently reduced from 51% to 40%. Judges found that changes in ownership and satellite specification change reduced Thailand's communications security, and noted that the negotiations allowed ShinSat to launch a satellite with much greater commercial potential than ThaiCom 4 without having to bid for a separate concession agreement. There was a failure to enforce a satellite concession contract between Shin Satellite (ShinSat) and the Transport Ministry, resulting in public damage of Bt20 billion. ShinSat, a unit of Shin Corp and since renamed Thaicom, was supposed to invest in Thaicom 4, a back-up satellite costing Bt4 billion, under its contract with the government. However, the contract was changed to allow ShinSat to switch to launch the commercially oriented iPSTAR satellite instead of Thaicom 4. In addition, the concession contract was amended to reduce Shin Corp’s investment burden in ShinSat from 51% to 40%.
Count 5: Abuse of authority in approving an Exim Bank loan to Myanmar, to pay for ThaiCom services, which substantially benefited his Shin Corp. Thaksin had trade deals negotiated which gave Myanmar a Thai EXIM Bank loan to purchase B376 million in satellite services from ShinSat. While 16 other companies also benefited from the EXIM Bank's loans, judges still ruled that the loans gave preferential treatment to Thaksin, and hence were an abuse of power. They decided to seize 46 billion, the differences in value of Shin Corp. shares from the date when he came to office and the value when the shares were sold to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings in early 2006. Thaksin had declared around B500 million in assets and his wife Pojaman 8 to 9 billion, while Thaksin served as prime minister.
Thaksin was charged with illegally concealing billions of baht of his wealth by transferring ownership of Shin Corp shares to his drivers and maids, without their knowledge. Thaksin tearfully told the Constitutional Court that it was an honest mistake before the Court acquitted him on the charges. (CNN, Thaksin court drama grips Bangkok, 26 February 2010)
Thaksin faces a number of corruption charges as well as malpractice charges in the Thai courts. Charges against him include:
-Corruption in the purchase/hiring of explosive detector and equipment for Suvannabhumi Airport from GE Invision Inc. causing damage to the country of approximately $80 million.
-Unlawful change of telecommunication concession fees into excise tax which allegedly benefited Shin Corp while causing an equivalent loss of $US230 million to the country.
-Malfeasance in granting a loan of approximately $US400 million from state owned Krung Thai Bank to a company owned by his cronies and son.
-Abuse and violation of human rights on Muslim population in Southern Border Provinces which caused 108 deaths at Krue Sae Mosque, and 35 deaths at the Tak Bai incidents. Furthermore, during his first government, 18 human rights defenders were assassinated and another disappeared.
Eight out of 24 criminal corruption charges against Thaksin that has gone to court; the other 16 are still at police office or the attorney general’s office. Meanwhile, there are four potential perjury cases against Thaksin and his immediate family, related to official asset declarations of public office holders and their spouses.
Taksin’s sister and factotum faces many charges too:
1. The government of Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration subverted rule of law by submitting an Amnesty Bill to whitewash Thaksin from corruption charges and his involvement in political violence during the years 2009-2010. This Amnesty Bill would have stopped further investigation into Thaksin’s involvement in extrajudicial killing and abuse of human rights in the three Southern Border Provinces as well as the killings during the “war on drugs”, and started a process to reimburse him $US1.5 billion for monies seized when he was found guilty of corruption and other charges in 2010. Those who burned down the Zen Department Store building would also be “forgiven”!
2. The Rice Mortgage Scheme which Thaksin explicitly and publicly claims to be his initiative has cost the country over $US13 billion, destroyed Thailand’s competitiveness in the world rice market and failed to provide the help to the poor it promised. The scheme’s many loopholes have enabled public officials involved to embezzle substantial amounts of money. This has cost the public – we don’t know how much, as the government won’t say (one minister - Kittiratt Na-Ranong - has gone so far as to explain that it is OK for him to lie, to maintain public confidence), but the price seems to have risen to 1 or 2% of average income. Thailand’s position as the world’s #1 rice exporter may be forever lost.
3. Yingluck’s government attempted to circumvent budgetary practices by submitting a bill to enable it to secure a loan of $US70 billion (B2.2 trillion) for infrastructure mega-projects. This bill, only 4 pages long, contains but vague details of the projects. If approved, the country would be subject to 50 years of repayment, interest more than doubling the cost. This cost I figure as about 10% of average income. This, for a high-speed train which was supposed to connect to China, but now seems to have been scaled back to just three short lines, from Bangkok to Hua Hin, to Pattaya and to Korat.
4. Her government implemented a number of destructive populist policies, including excise tax reduction for a first car purchase, credit card for farmers, revolving funds for villages, and free electricity and water supply. These vote-catching policies have damaged the country’s fiscal situation and fostered a “culture of beggars” among many of its people. Populist policies produce votes for the government’s party but result in further financial irresponsibility among the populace. Household debt is now above a year’s average salary, and the country’s in danger of credit defaults like those which caused the 1997 financial collapse.
The government is also heavily involved in other expensive, and perhaps useless, mega-projects, especially the controversial B350 billion water management and flood-control scheme (of less than questionable value). Many of these are now on hold, but at least one isn’t: the Thai and Myanmar governments signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in May 2008 to develop a deep- sea port in Dawei and a connecting road link to Bangkok. Later, in July 2012, both governments signed another MOU on the Comprehensive Development of the Dawei Special Economic Zone and Its Related Project Areas in order to further enhance their cooperation of the Dawei project. While Thaksin has invested his own money buying land in the area and taking potential investors to Dawei and showing them the potential rewards for investing there. Meanwhile his proxy government is spending vast amounts building roads and infrastructure to the Myanmar border. It has approved the spending of another B50 billion on the project. But cost projections have been rising, and, as with her other mega-projects, Yingluck is finding lenders cagey and unco-operative. Once again, Thaksin’s vaunted “business acumen” becomes called into question. His satellite not-withstanding, Thaksin’s telecommunications “expertise” certainly has not produced a world-class system for his native country.
In April 2009, Privy Councilor General Pichitr Kullayanijaya reported he had been informed by former US ambassador to Thailand Ralph L. Boyce that Thaksin had laundered 100 billion baht (US$2.8 billion) through Cayman Island bank accounts to organize the anti-government protests ( Asia Times, “Smoke, mirrors and lies”, 17 April 2009).
A lack of the checks and balances necessary to real democracy has been a hallmark of Thai “democratic” procedure, and protesters are demanding that this change. They are not, though, acknowledging other important realities impending upon modern consciousness. They show no ecological concerns, no fears of global havoc, no concern to limit rampant materialism or greed, and little concern for justice for the poor. Perhaps they’re just a little behind the times; after all, many others don’t seem to be dealing with a full deck either.
for much more on the crimes of "Mr T" see:
Many seem to think that the credibility of the “leader” of the protests, Suthep Thaugsuban , should be a central issue here. It most certainly is not. He is not running for office nor, as often claimed, trying to put some kind of end to Thai “democracy”. It has taken his unorthodox methods and virulent demagoguery to get at least some to remember that democracy is not just about elections. Suthep has become a figurehead, I’m not sure exactly why (I suppose he was chosen by somebody), of a movement to try to keep the country from being looted. That is all.