Sunday, April 27, 2014

Thailand: Countering the West's Paid-Pens

More Fiction from Vltchek.

Aprial 27, 2014 (Michael Pirsch - ATN) - Twelve years ago, New York Times journalist Judith Miller was the person who wrote, over and over again, the lie that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Her lies opened the door for the criminal invasion of Iraq which has totally destroyed that country. Now, Thomas Fuller of the New York Times continues the practice of mass deception in his articles about the reasons for the protests in Bangkok. He has been joined by Andre Vltchek, a regular contributor to Counterpunch and Znet, in practicing to deceive readers about the same protests.

Vltchek’s Counterpunch article titled, “The Bangkok Protests”, repeats the misrepresentations found in his two previous propaganda pieces also published by Counterpunch. [1] The two were titled “Down and Out In Thailand: Elites F*** Up Bangkok” and “How the West Manufactures Opposition Movements”. [2]

His main thesis seems to be that Western corporate economic powers, through the U.S. government, are behind the now 6-month long demonstrations against the fugitive,former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin still controls the government acting through his youngest sister the current proxy prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Vltchek lionizes Thaksin as the savior of the poor and downtrodden, mostly living in the North and Northeastern parts of Thailand. He completely ignores the Thai people in the southernmost 3 provinces who have been devastated in every way possible by a more than 10 year fight with the central government. Vltchek alleges in his latest missive the demonstrations in Bangkok are the result of “billions of euros and dollars, pushed down the throats of pro-Western NGO’s…” [3] There is truth that this is the strategy employed by the U.S. in funding civil organizations in countries with the intent of destabilizing or overthrowing a targeted government . We are witnessing this in both the Ukraine and Venezuela. One problem:  It is not happening in Thailand.

If anything, Thaksin and his proxy government are backed by the Western interests. Thaksin is and has been associated with U.S. financial elites and power brokers since his days serving on the Carlyle Group Board of Advisors. There he joined such luminaries as George H.W. Bush, Frank Carlucci, John Major (former p.m. of England), Fidel Ramos (former president of Philippines), the former head of the Deutsche Bank in Germany, the former president of South Korea and others in opening doors for Carlyle Group around the globe. The bin Laden family of Saudi Arabia were amongst the funds largest investors. In fact, the bin Laden family were attending a Carlyle Group meeting in Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001.The family was quickly spirited out of the U.S.A. with the help of our government while all other planes had been grounded in response to the attacks in New York and D.C. Thaksin resigned from the board when he became prime minister of Thailand in 2001. Prior to his election he publicly hosted George H.W. Bush at his Bangkok home, followed by another visit from James Baker, Bush’s consigliere.

Thaksin was removed as a result of a military coup in 2006. The night before the coup he delivered a speech to the all-powerful Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York City in his capacity as an important cog in the neoliberal global system. Since the coup he has hired powerful U.S. based lobbyists such as James Baker (CFR and Baker Botts), Kenneth Adelman (Freedom House, International Crisis Group), Robert Blackwill (CFR), and his current hired flack Robert Amsterdam. This collection of neoconservatives and neoliberals has served Thaksin well, ensuring favorable coverage from mainstream media in the West.

In 2001, prior to the event of 9-11, Thaksin inked a deal with the U.S. government to establish the “Counterterrorism Intelligence Center” (CTIC), a secretive unit which joined the CIA and Thai intelligence officials to gather information about regional terror groups. [4] Two years later, he committed Thai troops to join the criminal invasion of Iraq. This was opposed by most segments of Thai society, including and especially the Malay Muslims in the southernmost 3 provinces. In 2004, he would change policy in the South by launching a militarized crackdown on Malay Muslims, which by 2014 has resulted in the deaths of over 6,000 people, including hundreds of police and military. He opened Thailand as one of the special rendition and torture centers for the U.S.A. Later he tried to unilaterally commit Thailand to a Free Trade Agreement with U.S.A. but was forced to back off after mass protests enveloped Thailand.

In recent weeks ambassadors/diplomats from U.S.A., Japan, France, and Australia have traveled to consult with Thaksin’s Red Shirt leaders, two of whom are facing terrorist charges from the Red Shirt-Army battles in 2010.[5] A few months ago the anti-Thaksin demonstration leaders invited the foreign diplomatic corps to meet with them at the main protest site. Only the Russian ambassador and one other ambassador attended.
In 2012 Obama and Hilary Clinton granted Thaksin a visa to visit the U.S.A. in spite of his fugitive status. Thaksin ran to escape a prison sentence for abuse of power stemming from corruption in the sale of prime government owned real estate to Thaksin’s wife at a price much lower than comparable properties in that location. He is also facing more than 25 other charges of corruption in Thailand, yet he still received a visa from the Clinton led state department.

The U.S. Department of State hosts the National Endowment for Democracy which “does what the CIA did 25 years ago”. [6] The NED funds civil society groups with the intent to destabilize or overthrow governments the U.S does not like. Current targets are Ukraine and Venezuela. Previous targets were Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. It was a NED operation which targeted Cuba with a “twitter” operation. NED openly funds, an internet news site which is pro-Thaksin Red Shirt. [7]

Does all this point to a situation where the U.S. suddenly backing anti-Thaksin demonstrators? The U.S. is more than comfortable with Thaksin who is neoliberal to his core.

In his most recent Counterpunch article Vltchek recounts seeing a poster which read, “Thaksin-ism is Communism Tyranny”. He responds:  “Thaksin Shinawatra-a communist? That very business tycoon, a turbo capitalist, whose only ‘fault’ was that he introduced free medical care (much better than that in the United States), improved education, housed the poor, and aimed at a much more egalitarian society than anything ever seen to date in Southeast Asia.” [8]

One method of imposing the neoliberal model is to mire a country’s people in debt. This he has done through his so-called populist programs which allegedly won the unending loyalty of Thailand’s poorest in the North and Northeast, but not in the poor South.

A feature of Thaksin’s brand of populism is easy access to loans at low interest rates. In the 2011 “Thaksin Thinks-Pheua Thai Acts” campaign he promised tax rebates on purchases of new cars by first time car buyers. Presently the proxy government is unable to issue the rebates due to lack of funds available. Also featured was a promise to issue low interest loans for first time home buyers.

In his first term he provided a “million baht per village fund” from which villagers could borrow, subject to the approval of village chiefs who profited greatly from this program. Since most of his vote buying populist programs involved debt there has been a sharp rise in household debt which has endangered the economy. At the beginning of Thaksin’s first term as prime minister, The Thailand National Statistical Office showed average debt of 69,500 baht per household for the period 1998-2001. By 2002 the average debt was 80,485 baht per household or 27.2% household debt outstanding to GDP. [9] While debt was piling up for households, Thaksin’s family’s stock investments soared by 147 % from January 2000 to January 2002. Since Thaksin was then prime minister, he had to hide his stock holdings amongst family members, thus, his eldest daughter became the country’s richest stockholder with shares worth 18 billion baht up from 10 billion baht over the same period. [10]

The Nation newspaper reported on Monday April 21, 2014 the Asian Development Bank’s concern over rising household debt primarily due to Thaksin’s populist policies. [11] In 2013 the household debt stood at 9.79 trillion baht or 82% of GDP; in 2008 the household debt stood at 55.8% of GDP. Don’t forget in 2001 the debt stood at 27.2% of GDP.

Yes it is possible to go past homes with flat screen televisions, pick-up trucks, cars, motorcycles etc and imagine how wealthy they are. What is hidden is the enormous debt load the populist schemes have generated. Debt does not create wealth, it subtracts wealth.
The most outrageous vote buying scheme was to promise to pay rice farmers 150% of world price for rice grown by Thai farmers. This scheme collapsed due to massive corruption and has left many rice farmers unpaid for rice already delivered to the government. Even the backbone of Thaksin’s electoral success aren’t immune to the corruption so identified with Thaksin politics. The rice farmers have been forced to ask loan sharks for enough money to take care of normal expenses because the government does not have the funds to pay them for rice already delivered.
In short, Thaksin, his family, and political cronies are the elite who have benefited greatly from his populist schemes-the country has not.

Vltchek claim that Thaksin implemented free medical cannot be supported by basic facts. There is no free medical care for Thai people. By the time he was elected Thaksin’s family had already invested in stock from the hospital industry. He enacted a 30 baht health care scheme. This covered cost of visits to hospital clinics. This is still very popular because the 30 baht will cover the doctor visit and any tests required. It does not include the cost of drugs or any required hospitalization;  the patient must pay out of pocket if the patient has no insurance. Needless to say, the share value went up for Thai hospitals due to the influx of patients when it started. Vltchek is correct to point out this is far better than what is available in the U.S.A., even with “Obamacare”.

An informed public, educated in critical thinking, is essential for democracy to exist. Elections cannot be said to be democratic if education is substandard and information clouded. Thus, Vltchek repeated claims of improved education are without basis. The Economist reported in 2012 about a “Thaksin Thinks-Pheua Thai Acts” campaign pledge to provide computer tablets to all schoolchildren. This program has nearly collapsed as most of the tablets promised have yet to be either manufactured or delivered. The quick fix approach to adding quality to education was criticized by the Economist. [12]
“Some argue that the focus on the tablets has distracted attention from a deeper malaise affecting Thai education. Although the number of children attending school has grown over the past decade, the quality of their education has deteriorated…Thailand’s scores on the respected PISA test have remained static since 2008 whereas Indonesia has been moving up from a lower base. In another recent competiveness report Thailand ranked 54th out of 56 countries for English-language profiency, the second lowest in Asia.

An even more damning assessment of Thai education was addressed by the Nation newspaper editorial writer Pornpimol Kanchanalak. [13] She argues that Thailand is a kleptocracy, not a democracy. She defines kleptocracy as a form of government in which officials use their office to increase personal wealth and political power by corruption and embezzlement of state funds. Of course kleptocrats are made legitimate through elections, especially in the rigged elections of our country. She writes about the Thai education system:  “In terms of the ultimate robbers of taxpayers, look no further than the Education Ministry, which receives the second largest budget allocation (20.6% of total budget)…Thailand’s education system is in tatters, at the level of both students and teachers. Thai students rank worse in many categories than their peers in other ASEAN countries. The teachers also flunk the standardised tests even in subjects they teach. Overseeing them is a ministry where procurement wizardy turns a 100,000 baht processor into a 500,000 baht computer. The same type of sorcery has turned the dime-a-dozen computer tablets that no longer work after one year into devices prized as much as the most commercially successful brands on the market…For years, our tax money that has flowed in the budget of this ministry has not been used efficiently and productively, but embezzled in huge quantities.”

Vltchek’s defense of Thaksin continues to collapse when we examine his assertion that Thaksin’s vote buying populist policies, “…aimed at a much more egalitarian society then anything ever seen to date in Southeast Asia.” On Monday November 30, 2009 an op-ed was posted by the Bangkok Post on “Thailand’s Shocking Inequality Statistics”. [14] It reported on a speech by Professor Pasuk Phongpaichak at the King Prachadhipok Institute which revealed:

·         The top 20% own 69% of the country’s assets, while the bottom 20% own only 1%
·         42% of bank savings comes from only 70,000 bank accounts each holding more than 10 million baht. Less than 1% of the people own nearly half of the country’s savings
·         Among the farming families, nearly 20% are landless, or about 811,871 families while 1-1.5 million farming families are tenants or struggling with insufficient land
·         The gap between the richest and poorest family is 13 times, higher than all our neighboring countries

An examination of the GINI index also shows inequality rising, not decreasing as Vltchek claims. The higher the GINI score the more unequal a country is, the lower the score shows more economic equality. From 2002-2009 Thailand’s score increased from 42 to 53.6. This shows more inequality not less. It is interesting to note that Thailand had more equality one year into Thaksin’s first official term and less equality 8 years later. Venezuela’s GINI score dropped from 49.5 (pre-Chavez) to 39 (2011). [15]

The difference between Thaksin populism and Chavez populism is the democratic process. Many of the populist policies in Venezuela came from grass roots ideas. All of Thaksin’s populist policies were his invention: no grass roots involvement allowed. If, as we have seen, members of his own political party are not allowed to think, then how would it be possible for a simple villager to have any effect on developing policy. Venezuela has communal councils throughout the country which are crucial to development and implementation of policies.

Thaksin is a fake populist, using populist policies as a means of buying votes and enriching himself and his cronies. Chavez along with the people in Venezuela developed populist policies with real input from the formerly most dispossessed of society. Thaksin has been rewarded with status from the nortorious CFR , an entry visa to U.S.A. in spite of his fugitive status, and most favorable coverage in the mainstream media and from Andre Vltchek. The truly remarkable changes for the better in health, education, wages, housing in Venezuela is and has been under relentless attack by the U.S.A. (NED, CIA, Congress, media, etc) because it is, as Chomsky puts it, “The threat of a good example”.

Thaksinism is only under attack by the people in Thailand. He, unlike Chavez is fully supported by the West. The people in Thailand are quite fed up with kleptocracy and are demanding reforms before an election is held. Holding elections with the same cast of characters competing without reform first is a recipe for disaster.

There is an urgent need for those who are demonstrating to come forward with specific proposals for reform. A major fault of the current protest leaders is their inability to spell out specifically the reforms needed to conduct an election as well as reforms needed to move this system away from kleptocracy to a truly democratic one. So far, those doing most of the talking come from the heart of the system-politicians, academics, intellectuals, elder statesmen, and the military. Notably absent are grassroots activists many of whom face the problems which need reform, some on an everyday basis.

If Vltchek cannot write in an honest fashion about Thailand, he should cease. In order for him to write honestly he must come to grips with all of Thaksin’s warts and proceed from there. His style as well as that of mainstream media is to hide or ignore the many warts of Thaksin. He must also explain how he can continue to defend a person who was involved in the theft of gold from the Congo under the disguise as gold exported by Uganda. [16] In view of his documentary severely critical of Rwanda’s role in the theft of Congo’s resources, he should acknowledge Thaksin’s role in blood gold or his otherwise beneficial and useful expose of Rwanda goes to waste.

[3].  Vltchek. “The Bangkok Protests”
[8]  Vltchek. “The Bangkok Protests”