Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Over the Rainbow, Over the Top

I have “Bedtime Story Duty” this week with my kids and I’m mostly winging it.  I thought I’d share tonight’s story.

Once upon a time in a kingdom far away called Toz. It was an amazing kingdom. Its leader was a very beautiful and very smart lady, I’ll call her Dorothy. 

Dorothy had only recently become leader of Toz. The people overwhelmingly wanted her to lead them rather than the evil and corrupt former government.

This former government was so bad that they caused a great flood in the kingdom of Toz, one of the worst floods in 50 years.   They did absolutely nothing to prepare for this flood that was building from earlier in the rainy season, squandering six months of preparation.  

Most of Toz was underwater and it was Dorothy’s responsibility to save the kingdom and rescue the people. Dorothy was very smart and very brave and, like all good leaders, she took her responsibility seriously.  But this was a tremendous task for her as she inherited a government whose bureaucracy was woefully lacking in competence and with an infrastructure incapable of dealing with such a disaster.

She also had to overcome the incompetence of three others.

First there was the Tin Man.  
If He Only Had a Heart.
The Tin Man had no heart.  He also always carried an axe. Some say it was because he needed one to grind all the time.  This may be true but he also used his axe in illegal logging ventures and to scare poor people.

Copters and Airplanes and Blimps! Oh My!

The Tin Man was also in charge of the Toz military, which meant he was pretty much all-powerful.  The Toz military operated with impunity, overriding any law that got in the way, except one… the Law of Gravity. Whether it be helicopters, F-16s, or even their blimp called the Sky Dragon, whatever the Royal Toz Air Force (RTAF)  put up, came down with a dreadful crash.

This concerned Dorothy because one time the Tin Man promised to have a military helicopter transport her back to the capital of Toz. Dorothy preferred using a boat to travel; after all, it was a flood.  However, there were no boats available because the Toz Navy was busy towing Rohingya out to sea.

A military helicopter was eventually made available but Dorothy wisely declined the ride saying that it did not have radar.  

“Nonsense,” huffed the Tin Man, “this helicopter has radar installed in it!”

Still, Dorothy was skeptical. She felt that a magical GT200 device duct taped to the cockpit’s console did not exactly qualify as an effective radar system.

Nevertheless, Dorothy eventually made it back to the capital city in Toz safely where she met with the Scarecrow. 
If He Only Had a Brain.
The Scarecrow was the governor of the capital city. He didn’t have a brain, which explains many things such as the fact that his statements during the crisis were mostly nonsense.

Another useless person at the capital city Dorothy had to deal with was the Lyin’ Man.

If He Only Had Courage and Told the Truth
The Lyin’ Man was a notorious coward.  No courage whatsoever.  In the past he was always running away, hiding in bunkers, having the Tin Man protect him. This time the floods scared him into fleeing all the way to the resort islands of the Maldives with his tail between his legs.

And there were many others, Dorothy managed to avoid.

There were those creepy Munchkin’s living on the “Yellow” brick road.

Don't Follow That "Yellow" Road, Dorothy
Dorothy knew that those fascists were no good.

There was also a very wicked witch.

She was the deputy spokeswoman for the very wicked Democrat Party in Toz who wanted to deny free speech to the good citizens of Toz by shutting down all social networking sites on the internet, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. There was also an ugly incident when she tried flying in reverse with her broom. 

Then there was the evil flying monkey prince.

In the end, Dorothy managed to single handedly keep the flood waters in check, saving countless lives and property despite having to put up with the incompetency of those other three.  

Dorothy was the hero to everyone in Toz. And everyone lived happily ever after.

The End

"Any resemblance to persons living or dead should be plainly apparent to them and those who know them, especially if the author has been kind enough to have provided detailed descriptions of their personality traits and, in some cases, their actual pictures. All events described actually happened, though on occasion the author has taken certain, very small, liberties, because that is his right as an American." 

Maybe tomorrow night I’ll give my rendition of Alice in Wonderland with the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts to my kids.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Have You No Sense of Decency? - Then and Now

It has been over 57 years since a pair of well-crafted sentences rang out across a Congressional hearings room in Washington DC and began a process that was of great importance to the integrity and honor of the United States:

"Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy was famous for his aggressive anti-communist stance, and speeches in which he claimed to be in possession of long lists of names of communists in the State department, the military, and elsewhere in government. He made full use of his position as chair of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and its Permanent Committee on Investigations. He destroyed the careers of many people by claiming that they had belonged to communist front organizations or associated with communists. His success at this owed a lot to the fact that he was able to play (as Harvard law dean Erwin Griswold put it) "judge, jury, prosecutor, castigator, and press agent, all in one."

On June 9 in 1954, McCarthy was pursuing a somewhat peripheral vendetta against the Army over the drafting of a member of his staff. The vendetta had already dragged through over thirty days of Congressional hearings. At one point, out of sheer malice, McCarthy decided to place into the record the quite gratuitous information that the law firm representing the Army, Hale and Dorr of Boston, employed a young lawyer, Fred Fisher, who — though he was by this time a Republican — had once (in law school and for a few months thereafter) belonged to a chapter of a leftist organization, the Lawyer's Guild.

Fisher was not even on the team that was representing the Army in the case at hand in Washington; he worked in the Hale and Dorr's Boston office and had nothing to do with the case at hand. But his career could well be over if he was publicly smeared as a communist, and that would be a blow McCarthy could strike against the senior Hale and Dorr attorney who was representing the Army, Joseph Welch. As McCarthy launched into the speech that would place it on record that Fisher had been in the Lawyer's Guild, Welch went on the offensive, arguing against him fiercely, castigating him personally ("Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness"), begging him not to go on. "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator; you've done enough," he cried; and as McCarthy showed that he was going to go on regardless, Welch added: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?". (The quote is often given with Have you no shame? included, but that is not what Welch actually said)

From the moment of Welch's eloquent and much-quoted utterance, Joseph McCarthy's reputation started to wane, and before long it had collapsed. He lost his popularity with the public (his altercation with Welch was seen live on TV, and the newspapers the next day recorded in print for those who didn't see it). Ultimately he was censured by his Senate colleagues. When he died three years later after a period of alcohol abuse he was a broken man. Never was there a clearer example to show that sometimes, in the face of real evil and dangerous power, one person can stand up and win a battle with a simple speech act.

Now to a similar but more recent “real evil and dangerous power,” Thailand’s draconian lèse-majesté laws.  

Recently, at the Criminal Court in Bangkok on November 23rd, a Chinese descendant Thai, Mr. Amphon, aka “Arkong”, a 61 year old grandfather, who barely reads and writes Thai was convicted to 20 years of imprisonment. His crime: texting four messages to a phone belonging to Abhisit Vejjajiva’s personal secretary.

Each message earns him five years (4 messages x 5 years) as per Section 112 of the Penal Code and the 2007 Computer Related Crime Act, Section 14(2) and (3). The texts he sent were allegedly considered defamatory to the Queen of Thailand. He has been suffering from laryngeal cancer and over the past year, has been detained in prison and denied bail.

Mr. Amphon’s arrest, trial and harsh imprisonment are an outrageous disgrace. The royalists there have made Thailand a cruel and uncivilized nation, a disgrace to freedom in the world.
Mr. Amphon being led to prison while his family looks on
Perhaps those words by Mr. Welch still have some power in them after all these years. It’s worth a try:

"Have you no sense of decency, Thailand? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thailand’s Second Flood

While the flood waters are receding in Thailand the Thai news media is busy flooding the country with demagogic and misleading political propaganda masquerading as the truth.  They are trying to tear down the democratically elected government by claiming that Yingluck mishandled the crisis and was actually to blame for the disaster.

This is the biggest crock of crap to have come out of Thailand’s media since Abhisit’s government massacred all those pro-democracy protestors in Bangkok last year.
Fortunately, the international assessment of the Yingluck government’s performance in handling the crisis has been fair.  I’ll give two examples.

 Example 1:  This is from a special background briefing with senior US State Department officials en route to Manila on November 14, 2011. A State Department official is credited as saying: 

“I was there three weeks ago. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve been to incredible places that are flooded, but virtually half the country is under water right now, the worst flooding by orders of magnitude in Thailand’s history. This is a young government elected not long ago…. She is a relative newcomer to politics. She and her government have struggled mightily against just incredible odds and enormous environmental challenges to deal with floods that are biblical in proportions. And she is – she has done an excellent job in seeking to balance huge interests both in the countryside and in urban areas, particularly in Bangkok.”
Example 2: The following is from Stars and Stripes dated October 25th.
“A 10-man Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team comprised of Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force on Okinawa is still on the ground and the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin arrived for a port visit in Laem Chabang on Friday to participate in community service events, Marine and Navy officials said.
“The duration and extent of any U.S. support come from the assessment of the HAST, what the Government of Thailand requests through the U.S. Department of State, and what the U.S. military can actually provide based on legal authorities and funding,” said 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. Anthony Falvo in an email to Stars and Stripes. “The response efforts of the highly capable and competent Thai government and military have been sufficient in alleviating immediate concern.”

Well, I’m certainly not going to believe the likes of the “lame” stream Thai media over a group of brave US Marines!

Not much has been made of it but PM Yingluck cancelled her attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit which took place in Hawaii earlier this month. Last month she also cancelled a visit to China. Instead of traveling abroad, PM Yingluck correctly decided to focus on addressing the flooding that hit the country, the worst in 50 years.

PM Yingluck Shinawatra giving aid to flood victims

Meanwhile, leader of the opposition, Abhisit Vejjajiva, during the height of Thailand’s flooding crisis last month, decided to flee to the island resort of the Maldives for a vacation.
Former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva giving the finger to flood victims

There you have it. When the shit hits the fan some people run and some people stay. Here's Yingluck bravely facing the crisis; and there's Abhisit hiding in the Maldives. And what has the Democrat leaning Thai media been doing? They’re pretty much ignoring Abhisit’s irresponsibility and trying to destroy Yingluck by singling out every minor error the Pheu Thai government has made during the crisis.

The Thai Media and their Democrat Party allies have done absolutely nothing to help the flood situation. They just continue the incessant political snipping in an attempt to bring down the Yingluck and her government. If anyone is to resign it should be the Governor of Bangkok. He has routinely played politics and has not made one accurate statement during the crisis.  

Prime Minister Yingluck, on the other hand, has done a magnificent job of tirelessly working to keep people safe and cared for and to protect the country.  This was a tremendous task for her as she inherited a government whose bureaucracy was woefully lacking in competence and with an infrastructure incapable of dealing with such a national flood disaster. Abhisit's government, which did not leave office until August, did absolutely nothing to prepare for floods that were building from earlier in the rainy season.  It squandered six months of preparation. Prime Minister Yingluck should be applauded for having the heart and strength of purpose to see this disaster through under unbelievably difficult circumstances. 


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Accent – uate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative

I’d like to comment on all this brouhaha concerning democratically elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s English skills. With English as my native language and having listened to her statement in response to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I found that PM Yingluck’s English communication wasn’t bad at all. It was totally comprehensible to me.

This is contradictory to comments by PM Yingluck’s anti-democracy opponents in Thailand like Somkiat Onwimon, who said her said that her English was unserviceable and incomprehensible.

Somkiat Onwimon is a retired academic, a former senator and current news anchor in Thailand. And, no offence to Malcom X, but Somkiat looks like a Thai version of the slain 1960s civil rights leader with an elderly skunk sitting on his head.

It is ironic that Mr. Onwimon, made those comments on Twitter, because he certainly is a “twit,” a Thai elitist snob with an inferiority complex who leads himself to believe that the only good English is the Queen’s English. 

Twitter is the perfect venue for someone like Mr. Onwimon. I doubt I’ll be seeing Mr. Onwimon here in Houston, admonishing us on our Texas Drawl. He won’t be going to Kentucky State University, Yingluck’s alma mater, and tell them that their Kentucky Twang is abominable. Nor will he go to Edinburgh and tell their citizens that their Scottish Brogue has got to go because only the Queen’s English will do.

Now I do readily admit that PM Yingluck had a bit of a thick accent, perhaps exacerbated by fatigued due to tirelessly saving Thailand from the flooding crisis caused by the previous government’s mismanagement and malfeasance.  However, we must all remember that PM Yingluck was addressing Hillary Clinton, and as a fellow American, I can honestly attest that Yingluck’s English was perfectly understandable to us Yanks.

I’d like to also be just as fair to Mr. Onwimon when he insinuates that bad English skills can potentially damage Thailand with regards to foreign relations. That is very true. Take for instance, Kasit Piromya, the former Foreign Minister from the previous military installed government.  My head hurt every time I heard him speak.  His English always seemed troglodytic and barely functional to me.
Kasit resorting to hand gestures in order to communicate his need for a bathroom break

Of course, Kasit is a yellow shirted PAD and the PAD buffoons are notorious for having poor English skills. Their spelling and grammatical errors in English have been well documented. 

Can you spot the spelling or grammatical errors in the following PAD signs?

This next one is easy, as they are actually pointing to the error?

This evidence helps to support the generally accepted theory that the PAD helped the army (at least in making their signs for them) in the massacre of innocent pro-democracy protesters in April and May 2010.

Of course, the most obvious mistake in English that the PAD made is in their very name of their organization. They mixed up the prepositions “for” and “against”.  Their rhetoric and actions suggest that their organization should really be known as the “People’s Alliance Against Democracy.” 

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Tale of Two Ambassadors

Kristie Kenney, the US Ambassador to Thailand, has ignored the plight of Joe Gordon and the trumped up charges of lese majeste for almost 6 months now. She has sat by quietly, while her poor fellow American citizen rots in a Thai jail for allegedly exercising his right to free speech in Colorado:  something that was so clearly protected by the First Amendment of a document she has sworn to protect.

But lese majeste is another thing. The Thai government is claiming jurisdiction over free speech performed by a US citizen from within US borders and on servers in the US. Perhaps Ambassador Kenney’s silence signifies her agreement with a supra-national application of Thai law over the sovereignty of the US Constitution and rights to free speech?

Or perhaps she's afraid that if she appears to be defending a US citizen accused of "insulting the King," some Thai people in high places will complain to Washington and get her in trouble and she may lose her cushy job of tweeting all day?

No matter what the reason, Kenney’s refusal to publicly do anything to help her fellow American is nothing more than a disgrace. But contrast Ambassador Kenney’s performance (or lack of performance) to that of the US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke.

For Locke, quiet diplomacy on human rights has been a regular part of his portfolio in China. Shortly after he took up the post, Ambassador Locke actually met with an American citizen, imprisoned in China for his role in the sale of an oil database to a US company.

He was convicted of violating the state-secrets law for simply downloading material that was readily available on the Internet,” Ambassador Locke said in the interview. “We have been meeting with a lot of organizations and representatives of activists and organizations that are concerned about human rights,” Locke stated. “That's of great concern to me and to the administration, so we have plans to reach out to many of the activists.”

Ambassador Locke’s performance should be commended while Kristie Kenney’s refusal to publicly do anything to help her fellow American is nothing more than a disgrace. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Free Speech for "The Dark Lord" – Everyone Else Shut Up

SuthichaiYoon, is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Nation Publishing Group in Bangkok. The Nation Publishing Group owns "The Nation" which is one of the two English-language daily newspapers in Bangkok. He also writes a daily Thai-language column and a weekly English-language column.  Mr. Yoon has a blog and also hosts a weekly television program on current affairs.

I generally don’t follow Mr. Yoon’s work due to his lack of credibility.  I’ll give two examples:  he works for "The Nation" and he tried to kill Harry Potter.

However, in a classic example of the age old saying; “Even a blind monkey finds a banana every once in awhile,” Mr. Yoon finally got something right.  A couple of weeks ago, he wrote an editorial in “The Nation” about proposed amendments to the Printing Act of 2007 from the Ministry of Culture and the erosion of free speech in Thailand.

The amendments include 7 points:

1.    Any print media, excluding newspapers, printed in the kingdom must identify itself by category according to criteria set by ministerial regulation;
2.    The National Police Chief is authorized to ban the printing, distribution or import of any printed media which affects the monarchy, national security or public order and morals;
3.    Publishers must publish within 60 days after receiving permission;
4.    Publishers must identify in the printed materials the category and ISBN of each publication as issued by the National Library of Thailand, and must submit two copies to the National Library of Thailand;
5.    The name of the publication must not be the same as or similar to any of the name or abbreviation of any state agency;
6.    Publishers who do not submit copies of their publication to the National Library of Thailand within a specified timeframe will be fined up to 10,000 baht; and
7.    Those who violate a banning order by the National Police Chief will be punished with a jail term of up to three years or a fine of up to 100,000 baht, or both.

Mr. Yoon correctly condemned these proposed amendments outright but without truly understanding the reasoning behind them. Obviously, these amendments have been proposed in order to address the well known problems of so-called “Thai journalism” – problems which he is a part of.  

When the news media bends over for advertisers, the military, the police and anyone else in power, they no longer become trustworthy. The news media becomes an accomplice to crimes being committed by these powers.

Thai news reporters are long in words, short in action, fearing for their own lives over the truth, typing away like blind sheep at mundane stories; approved by those same powers. There probably are not very many brave Thai reporters in the entire kingdom willing to investigate a story that could endanger them.

During the Thai military’s massacre of democracy protesters in Bangkok during April and May of 2010, there should have been a relatively large ratio of Thai reporters to foreign reporters covering the event.  Yet, how many Thai reporters were killed or injured? Unless one of them received a paper cut from too quickly retyping an army press release – there probably wasn’t any. They knew the score. It is safer to publish the army’s claptrap given to them at press conferences than to get the truth firsthand at the scene and run the risk of getting shot and killed by the army like Fabio Polenghi of Italy and Hiro Muramoto of Japan. The Thai media probably knew that they’d better let someone like NY Times reporter Thomas Fuller be the one to interview General Seh Daeng, an ally of the democracy protesters for fear that a Thai army sniper’s bullet might miss the interviewee and hit the interviewer instead. Yet the foreign media who put reporters on the scene in harm’s way was intensely criticized for their reporting of the massacre by Thai royalists.

The Thai news media, in general, has been and still are accomplices as they see the corruption, they know the details, yet they blindly keep the people from the truth. The time for bringing Thai newspapers up to journalistic standards is long overdue. While other countries have newspapers that are committed to truthfulness and accuracy, many Thai newspapers – like The Nation, and the other English-language daily; The Bangkok Post, twist facts and arouse hatred. Thai newspapers like Thairath and Manager are just as bad. They often don’t report neutrally and are often just a propaganda instrument.

Some members of Pheu Thai at the Ministry of Culture, frustrated at the poor state of journalism in Thailand, may have good intentions in trying to address some of these problems through legislation but by doing so they might accomplish the impossible and actually lower Thailand’s abysmal Press Freedom ranking by brought about by Abhisit Vejjajiva’s repression.  

The government is far too blunt and dangerous an instrument to be used to legislate the news media’s responsibility to maintain journalistic standards.  Incredibly bad and biased reporting by propaganda rags like “The Nation” in Thailand shouldn’t serve as an excuse to expand the repressive powers of a government. 

Fortunately, wiser minds have prevailed. On November 1, Deputy Spokesperson of the PM’s Office Chalitrat Chantarubeksa told reporters that the Office of the Council of State had rejected the amendments to the 2007 Print Registration Act.  

Suthichai Yoon being portrayed as a champion against censorship is laughable.  If he really is an opponent of censorship then why was he so conspicuously silent when the junta and the previous military installed government of Abhisit censored all kinds of websites, radio stations and publications, shutting down those they didn't like with impunity?  Actively involved in the new and social media, Mr. Yoon has attempted to transform his publishing group's newsroom into a fully digital mode.  So, standing up against censorship of his competitors (for example Prachatai) during Abhisit’s regime was not in his best interest; economically.

Abhisit Vejjajiva (left) and Suthichai Yoon chatting on March 6, 2009 during the 10th anniversary celebration of Asia News Network (ANN) at the Peninsula Hotel, Bangkok.  There, Abhisit gave a speech saying he was committed to media freedom and that Thailand’s Freedom of Press ranking in the world (then at 124th) would improve under his government.  Later that day, police raided Prachatai’s online news office. Abhisit left office two years later with Thailand ranked 153rd in the world in Press Freedom, only 25 other countries ranked lower.