The Lack of Safe Places to Invest

  • There’s a dark cloud building behind the world’s best period of synchronous growth among developed and emerging economies this decade — one that in time could rain down volatility in global markets.
  • The problem, identified by strategist and hedge fund manager Stephen Jen, is a deepening imbalance in the lack of new safe-haven assets as the world’s output expands.
  • China and other developing nations are accumulating wealth, but failing to create sophisticated local markets that feature their own risk-free instruments. That’s left a dangerous reliance on U.S. Treasuries, according to Jen’s argument, perpetuating a bond bubble and pushing investors into riskier assets.
  • The continued growth of emerging markets while their financial systems lag behind produces “a situation whereby the genuine safe-haven assets such as the U.S. Treasuries, German bunds, and the British gilts become increasingly rare and in short supply,” they wrote.
  • … emerging markets haven’t yet been able to develop assets that investors are willing to hold as stores of value and collateral when times get tough. Doing that requires strong levels of confidence in the rule of law, equitable regulation and belief that money can be withdrawn by the investor whenever needed. » The Bloomberg article -By Chris Anstey and Enda Curran – June 13, 2017
  • Links between trade and currency values (Jupiter images)

    Global banks admit guilt in forex probe, fined nearly $6 billion

  • Four major banks pleaded guilty .. to trying to manipulate foreign exchange rates and, with two others, were fined nearly $6 billion in another settlement in a global probe into the $5 trillion-­a-­day market.
  • The settlements .. stood out in part because the U.S. Department of Justice forced Citigroup’s main banking unit Citicorp, and the parents of JPMorgan, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland to plead guilty to U.S. criminal charges.
  • The investigations are far from over. Prosecutors could bring cases against individuals, using the banks’ cooperation pledged as part of their agreements. Probes by federal and state authorities are ongoing over how banks used electronic forex trading to favor their own interests at the expense of clients.
  • Citicorp will pay $925 million, the highest criminal fine, as well as $342 million to the U.S. Federal Reserve. Its traders participated in the conspiracy from as early as December 2007 until at least January 2013, according to the plea agreement.
  • Traders at Citi, JPMorgan and other banks were part of a group known as “The Cartel” or “The Mafia,” participating in almost daily conversations in an exclusive chat room and coordinating trades and otherwise fixing rates. » The Reuters article – BY Karen Freifeld, David Henry and Steve Slater – May 21, 2015.

Stricter Regulation of Foreign banking in the the U.S.

  • Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo defended the central bank’s rules requiring stricter supervision of foreign banking companies operating in the U.S., saying the global financial crisis made it clear that regulation needed to be expanded.
  • “The most important contribution the United States can make to global financial stability is to ensure the stability of our own financial system,” Tarullo said in a speech today to a Harvard Law School symposium in Armonk, New York.
  • Foreign bank reliance on short-term wholesale liabilities such as commercial paper to fund longer-term securities created instability in 2008 as sources of cash grew tight. The Fed provided backstop loans to both domestic and foreign bond dealers through the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, and to foreign banks directly through the discount window.
  • The Fed “provided substantial liquidity to the broker-dealer affiliates of the bank holding companies, as well as to the primary dealer subsidiaries of foreign banks,” Tarullo said.
  • The biggest borrowers from the discount window as the program reached its crisis-era peak were foreign banks, accounting for at least 70 percent of the $110.7 billion borrowed during the week in October 2008 when use of the program surged to a record.
  • Under the rule issued in February, foreign banks with non-branch assets of $50 billion or more must hold their subsidiaries in holding companies that are subject to capital and liquidity standards applied to U.S. banks, and meet special risk management standards. » The full Bloomberg article – By Craig Torres and Susanne Walker – March 28, 2014

News from Wall Street

Image source – The Globe and Mail
    “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”
    John Godfrey Saxe, American poet and lawyer, 1869

  • Add bond ratings to that list. » More in this New York Times article – By Floyd Norris November 8, 2012.

S&P found guilty of misleading investors

  • Standard & Poor’s misled investors by awarding its highest rating to a complex derivative product that collapsed in value less than two years after it was created by ABN Amro, an Australian judge has ruled, in a landmark case that paves the way for legal action in Europe.
  • In a damning verdict the Federal Court of Australia ruled S&P and ABN Amro, now owned by RBS, had “deceived” and “misled” local councils that bought triple-­A rated constant proportion debt obligations (CPDOs) from an intermediary in 2006. » The full Financial Times article – By Neil Hume in Sydney – November 5, 2012.

  • Bank Investors Dismiss Moody’s Cuts as Years Too Late

    • Moody’s Investors Service suffered a downgrade of its own as markets responded to the company’s rating cuts of 15 of the world’s largest banks by bidding up the value of their stocks and bonds.
    • “We view the Moody’s downgrade as another overhyped story of 2012,” David Trone, analyst at JMP Securities LLC, wrote to his clients. “The corporate market thinks for itself and credit rating agencies are often lagging indicators.” » The full Bloomberg article – By Dakin Campbell and Michael J. Moore on June 22, 2012.
    • Looking back
    • A report by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said that S&P, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings helped trigger the financial crisis when they cut thousands of mortgage securities they rated AAA to junk status. The raters had engaged in a “race to the bottom” to win business, lawmakers said.
    • Even after Congress included rules in the Dodd-Frank Act last year designed to cut reliance on ratings, S&P and its competitors remain a key part of the financial markets. Pension and mutual funds often require minimum ratings to buy debt securities. Banks are generally required to hold less capital to back higher rated bonds as regulators including the Federal Reserve have yet to find an alternative. » The full Bloomberg background article – By Zeke Faux and Jody Shenn – Sep 1, 2011

    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Examining Key World Economies and Comparing Their Current Volatility
      Overview: Students review key economic terms and ideas necessary for understanding world economies. They then research the economies of countries in the Group of 10 and present how their economies have changed over the past five years and how the relationships among these countries affect each other in light of world events.  Go to this Economy and Society Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Understanding Credit Cards and Credit Card Debt
      Overview: Students examine and learn the basics about credit cards and credit card debt, then create an informational brochure for young students. Go to this Economy and ESL Lesson.

    Compare the 2007 and 2015 Thai military coup written constitutions

    • A Learning Foundation LessonCompare the 2007 and 2015 Thai military written constitutions
      Overview | » Compare and Contrast Lesson
    • The Learning FoundationIs the Thai Constitution credible?
      Overview | Class involvement in evaluating rules and laws » Simplified Mock Trial – Lesson Plan

    • A Learning Foundation Lesson“It’s my country/I can do what I want!”
      Editor’s note: this case is based on the conflicting opinions about who chooses the way a country is governed. – Simplified Mock Trial Lesson Plan.

    The Thai Justice system Thai coup (AFP)
    Wicha Mahakhun, a former Thai judge and (military coup sponsored) constitution drafter, stated:

    “People, especially academics who want to see the constitution lead to genuine democracy, are naïve. We all know elections are evil. Even HM the King places trust in the judges; would you condemn them?” From the article: Charter drafter pans ‘evil’ elections – The Nation.

    Giles Ungpakorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University charges:

    “The drafters will claim they are following the policies of the palace, but it’s much more complicated than that, …. Moreover, the monarchy is just one institution. There are 65 million other people in Thailand who deserve an equal say in how the country is run.”
    “The (18th Thai Constitution) has a problem right from the start,… Giving power to unelected civil servants who tend to be very conservative is a step backwards.” From the article: The Rise of Thailand’s Third Branch – By Daniel Ten Kate   – The Asia Sentinel.

    Updated – September 15, 2015: Worries about Investing in Asia continues

    China’s Problem Isn’t Its Markets

    • There are many good reasons to be spooked about economic stability in China—but the performance of its markets isn’t one of them.
    • Clumsiness is out of character for a government that has confidently worked through every economic crisis it has faced over the past three decades, including the 2008 global financial meltdown.
    • But this is different. There are no easy fixes for an economy growing at its slowest rate in a quarter of a century, burdened by debt, swamped in industrial overcapacity and in the throes of an economic transition that Premier Li Keqiang admitted just last week at the World Economic Forum would be “painful and treacherous.”
    • Money is fleeing the country. Among foreign investors, the most closely watched number in China today is not the Shanghai stock market index, or the exchange rate, or the price per square meter of a Shanghai apartment. It is the figure for capital outflows reflected in the decline of the country’s foreign- exchange reserves.
    • They’re still massive but they’re dwindling fast. The reserves fell by a record $93.9 billion in August. If that’s a proxy for confidence in the government – which many believe to be the case — repression isn’t helping. » The WSJ Article – By Andrew Browne – September 15, 2015.

    This Is Why So Many Chinese Companies Are Suspended

    • At least 1,331 companies have halted trading on China’s mainland exchanges, freezing $2.6 trillion of shares, or about 40 percent of the country’s market value, Bloomberg News reports today.
    • The unwinding of margin loans is adding fuel to the fire. Individual investors, we all know by now, have used generous margin financing terms to enter the stock market and then build up their portfolios. Less known is that Chinese companies have been doing the exact same thing by using their own corporate stock to secure loans from banks.
    • That means that they stand to lose a lot when those share prices start trending dramatically lower.
    • This vicious circle described above also explains why China’s central bank has quickly moved to support the market in an effort to limit its impact on the wider economy. » The Bloomberg article – By Tracy Alloway – July 8,2015.

    New Laws in China and Thailand a thin legal veneer to repression in the name of national security

    • China’s growing paranoia about national security has rattled American and European companies with a raft of new laws creating rising uncertainty for foreign investors, business leaders and diplomats say.
    • repression in the name of national security » Image source and article

    • The security clampdown reflects President Xi Jinping’s concerns that foreign forces are intent on overthrowing China’s Communist Party, propagating dangerous Western values such as democracy and free speech, and inspiring a popular uprising or “color revolution,” experts say.
    • Human rights groups have already come out strongly against the new laws, arguing that they will be used to silence critics and give a thin legal veneer to repression in the name of national security. » The Washington Post article – By Simon Denyer – June 10, 2015

      The 2006 and 2014 coups are examples in Thailand where poor governance, unreliable laws and biased courts increase the risk of investment

    • This week: The ruling coup military junta has shut down a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) event for the second time this month.
    • The FCCT said in a statement Monday afternoon that it had cancelled a discussion scheduled to take place Wednesday on Thailand’s draconian else majesty law after it received a verbal order from police.

      The use of Article 112 has long been controversial, and has increased markedly since the coup. We believe the law is a legitimate subject for discussion, not only for Thais, but also for foreigners who live or invest in Thailand. Our discussion would, we believe, have been constructive. The FCCT statement

    • Authorities refused to give a written order to shut down the event, saying it might damage their reputation.
    • “The NCPO has now told us they will not issue such a letter because they fear it would be used in the media to damage their image,” the FCCT said The full Statement
    • Earlier this month the ruling junta blocked a panel discussion on human rights in post-coup Thailand scheduled to take place at the same venue. » The Asian Correspondent article – June 15, 2015.

    The Thai Justice system Thai coup (AFP)

    • Looking back to the 2006 coup: Giles Ungpakorn, (who left Thailand and is now in exile in the UK after the Abhisit government filed les mageste charges against him) was a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University and said the whole justice system should be overhauled, from the police to judges to bureaucrats. He advocates trials by jury and elections for judges to increase public accountability.
      “The constitution (sponsored by the military) has a problem right from the start,” he said. “Giving power to unelected civil servants who tend to be very conservative is a step backwards.” – The Asian Sentinel article – By Daniel Ten Kate – May 11, 2007.
    • Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, one of the country’s leading constitutional lawyers, (said) the practice of coups in Thailand is a bad habit that needs to end. “If we didn’t have this coup the Thai people could have learned more about democracy and politics and about how to develop,” – Quote from: News Analysis: Democracy, Thai style – Ban the politicians – By Thomas Fuller International Herald Tribune – Published: October 6, 2006.

    Frustrated with doing business in China and looking elsewhere in Asia – investors find the same patterns

    • Burma: Good investment Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s democracy movement, stared down an audience of corporate executives (in Thailand) on Friday and urged them to avoid “reckless optimism” and to be aware of the pitfalls her country still holds for investors.
    • “Would-be investors in Burma, please be warned,” she said, referring to the country by its former name. “Even the best investment laws would be of no use whatsoever if there are no courts that are clean enough and independent enough to be able to administer those laws justly. This is our problem: So far we have not been aware of any reforms on the judicial front.” » The full New York Times article – By Thomas Fuller – June 2, 2012.

    15 years later the risks throughout Asia remain:

    • Sustainable economic growth requires efficient capital markets, and today these markets are global. They consist of myriad shareholders and creditors who each take small stakes in many different companies. If investors are confident that their rights are well protected, they open their wallets; if they fear that majority shareholders, managers or governments might fleece them, they hold back.
    • The “Asian miracle” ended in July 1997, abruptly turning into what is now known as the “Asian crisis”. Investors were badly burnt, and those who could get out did so in a hurry. Suddenly the lack of transparency, of good corporate governance and of legal protection rose to the top of the agenda.
    • Doing BUsioness in Asia Image and article source – The Economist April 5, 2001

    The Emperor has no clothes/ First Impressions and other World Wise Lessons


    “Socrates…the consummate inquiring mind in history wrote nothing, accomplished nothing, and made his mark by standing around a rock, questioning people … When an audience is interested in questioning the world, then nonsense blows away like a morning mist …. » read more

    • World Wise School – WorksheetStudents will learn to identify and modify generalizations
      Overview | This activity introduces students to the difficult concept of generalization so that they will challenge generalizations made about people. Go to this Building Society Lesson.

      1. Explore Other World Wise worksheets:

      2. The Blind Men and The Elephant
      3. Students will examine the importance of perspective in how people perceive things.

      4. Generalizations: How Accurate Are They?
      5. Students will examine how generalizations can be hurtful and unfair.

      6. Is That a Fact? – Lesson Plan
      7. Understanding the difference between fact and opinion is critical to our ability to examine our reactions to events and people. Stereotypes and prejudices are often based on opinions that are perceived as facts.

      8. Opposites
        Students will see how personal tastes and experiences – in addition to culture – influence our perspectives.
      9. (2)Is That a Fact? – Lesson Plan

        The World is hotter – Is that a fact? – Lesson Plan

      10. Brief Encounters (Looking at Ourselves and Others)
      11. Students experience what it is like to confront and deal with a culture highly different from their own

    More governments write laws to manipulate and control power

    Justice is blind Image source By Barry Blitt.

      U.S. justices throw out ruling that upheld Alabama redistricting plan

    • A closely divided U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out a lower court ruling that upheld a state legislature redistricting plan in Alabama that packed black voters into certain districts in a way critics say diminished their clout at the polls.
    • In their 5-4 decision, the justices called the lower court ruling backing the redistricting plan “legally erroneous.” But the justices ducked a ruling on the plan’s lawfulness and sent the case back to a lower court.
    • The court avoided deciding whether the redistricting plan proposed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2012 violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law by concentrating black voters, who tend to vote Democratic, into a small number of districts.
    • The redistricting plan in Alabama, a Deep South state with a past history of erecting hurdles for black voters, was challenged by the Alabama Democratic Conference and the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus.
    • This was the first voting rights case heard by the high court since its 2013 ruling that gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act. » The Reuters article – By Lawrence Hurley – March 25, 2015.

    Global drift to stifle freedom of speech Image source

    India’s Supreme Court ruled that the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was unconstitutional

    • India’s Supreme Court struck down a law which allowed police to arrest people for comments on social networks and other internet sitesSection 66A was sweeping in its powers – it could send a person to jail for three years for sending an email or other electronic message that “causes annoyance or inconvenience”.
    • In recent years, several people have been arrested for their comments on Facebook or Twitter, sparking outrage.
    • Section 66A’s creation, and much of its implementation, happened on the watch of the Congress party-led political regime that lost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government in last year’s general election.
    • Arun Jaitley of the BJP – the current finance minister and former opposition leader – had criticized the law in the upper house of parliament, after it was reported that the government had blocked nearly 300 websites.
    • “Section 66A is unconstitutional and we have no hesitation in striking it down,” news agency AFP quoted Justice RF Nariman as saying in court.
      “The public’s right to know is directly affected by section 66A,” he added. » The BBC article – March 24, 2015.

    Americans’ opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court

    • Public confidence in the judiciary provides a critical foundation for a society committed to the rule of law. As America’s unelected justices confront controversial questions, the legitimacy of their decisions depends on public support for the institution. The court must rely on other government officials, including elected leaders and law enforcement officers, to implement its rulings. Examples around the world suggest that obedience to judicial decisions may well depend on the level of respect that the courts enjoy.
    • Last month, the Pew Research Center reported that for the first time in its nearly 30 years of polling, the favorability rating of the US Supreme Court fell below 50 percent. Only 48 percent of the public has a positive view of the court. Perhaps more disturbing, the current level reflects a steady trend. The court’s approval fell below 60 percent in 2010 and has been sliding ever since.
    • The problem is that the rhetoric of the chief justice does not match the reality of much of the court’s record. The Roberts court has a habit of picking and choosing among hot-button issues, then deciding the cases along ideologically predictable lines. Both the selection of issues and their divisive resolutions signal a thoroughly political court in the eyes of many Americans. » The full Yahoo news Christian Science article – By Robert A. Schapiro – August 5, 2013.

    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Democracy in Action
      Overview | Students consider words that reflect their knowledge and opinions about democracy. They then work in groups to research countries that have recently transitioned to democratic forms of government. Their learning is further enhanced by reflecting on what has transpired in these countries to date. Go to this Building Society and Law Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – The Political is Personal
      Overview | Students explore their own personal political philosophies by identifying events, people and experiences that have helped shape their beliefs and writing an essay. Go to this Building Society and ESL Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Justices for All
      Overview | In this lesson, students examine the role of Supreme Court justices in the American political process. Students will research the qualities of the current Supreme Court justices and write opinion papers evaluating the current justices and recommending future nominations. Go to this Law and Society Lesson.

    When Dictators run out of allies

    Kim Jong-­un ‘in dire need of allies’ within his own government

    running out of allies

    • Kim Jong-­un’s appointment of his younger sister to a senior role in the North Korean government suggests the leader is “in dire need of allies” according to a leading expert.
    • Kim Yo-­jong, who is believed to be in her mid-­to-­late twenties, was referred to as a departmental vice director within the party’s Central Committee by state media this week, which analysts believe could signal her growing role in supporting her brother’s authoritarian role.
    • “Kim is in dire need of allies and if he is forced to appoint his sister, who is both younger than him and a woman [to this role] then he doesn’t have enough people to rely on,” Dr Breuker told The Independent, adding: “He probably wants her as a close ally and confidante.”
    • Dr Breuker believes the appointment shows Kim Jong-­un is looking for ways to get more power, suggesting he is in a weak position in his own government.
    • “North Korea is extremely worried about the human rights resolution being voted through to the UN General Assembly by 111 countries; this gives us a much stronger grip on the position of the North Korean government at the moment,” he said. » – The Independent article – By Loulla-Mae-Eleftheriou-Smith – November 27, 2014.

    • The Learning Foundation Who chooses the way a country is governed?
      “It’s my country – I can do what I want!” – A Simplified Mock Trial Lesson Plan.
    • The Learning Foundation Making Good Laws: “Is the Thai Constitution credible?”
      Go to this Law and Building a Healthy Society Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Democracy in Action
      Overview | Students consider words that reflect their knowledge and opinions about democracy. They then work in groups to research countries that have recently transitioned to democratic forms of government. Their learning is further enhanced by reflecting on what has transpired in these countries to date. Go to this Building Society and Law Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – The Political is Personal
      Overview | Students explore their own personal political philosophies by identifying events, people and experiences that have helped shape their beliefs and writing an essay. Go to this Building Society and ESL Lesson.

    Updated: June 16, 2017 – Controling what the public sees and hears

    Soldiers Remove Artworks from Bangkok Gallery

    • BANGKOK — Soldiers visited two art galleries in downtown Bangkok Thursday and ordered one to remove three photographs from an exhibition without citing any reason.
    • Held in two adjacent art galleries, one exhibition depicted the lives and memories of political prisoners while the other was an homage to the 2010 military crackdown on Redshirt protests which left more than 90 people dead.
    • It’s the latest effort by the military to micromanage their ban on political activities, in place since the May 2014 coup. Soldiers have previously blocked film screenings, academic seminars and even university football parades. » The Khaosod english article – By Teeranai Charuvastra – June 16, 2017

    Suppressing free press is ‘how dictators get started’: Senator McCain

    • The international order established after World War Two was built in part on a free press, McCain said in an excerpt of an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” that was released in advance of the full Sunday morning broadcast.
    • Senator John McCain, defending the media against the latest attack by President Donald Trump, warned that suppressing the free press was “how dictators get started”.
    • “I hate the press. I hate you especially,” he told interviewer Chuck Todd from an international security conference in Munich. “But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.”
    • “If you want to preserve – I’m very serious now – if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started,” he continued.
    • “They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power. When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history,” McCain said. » The Reuters article -m February 19, 2017

    .. with no light in view amid burgeoning uncertainty and continuing junta oppression.

    • After the May 2014 military coup, the palace was the only part of Thai society the military didn’t claim control over. Section 44 of the post-coup constitution grants the junta leader a legal carte blanche for any deed necessary to ensure “reform in any field and … national peace and harmony” and to suppress anything harmful to security, the monarchy, the economy, or the government. This section, which enshrines the junta’s right to dictatorship, does, however, implicitly exclude the monarchy from military control.
    • The media is crammed with propaganda heralding the return of happiness under the junta’s leadership. A new constitution (which would replace the post-coup 2014 one), set to be enacted before Thailand’s return to formal electoral rule, predictably passed on Aug. 7 by referendum after the military squelched any sign of opposition. The draft charter enshrines a whole set of new powers for the military, most notably immunity to civilian oversight of its personnel and budget and a 20-year plan impervious to later government intervention.
    • The next general elections are scheduled to take place in late 2017 or 2018. But despite all the junta’s attempts to keep power, it faces an array of potential threats to its longevity.
    • Indeed, it’s easy to imagine the scenarios that keep the generals up at night. The political turbulence following the 2014 coup has contributed to the distancing of investors from Thailand, slowing growth. The death of the king, followed by the crown prince’s decision not to immediately take the throne, could extend this uncertainty to a point where the economy plummets — along with public confidence in the generals. » The Foreign Policy Magazine article – By Paul Chambers – October 31, 2016.

    How Thailand’s military junta has cracked down on dissent

    • Police and soldiers in Thailand have committed at least 74 cases of torture and other ill treatment since the military seized power in a 2014 coup, according to an Amnesty International report released on Wednesday.
    • “Empowered by laws of their own making, Thailand’s military rulers have allowed a culture of torture to flourish, where there is no accountability for the perpetrators and no justice for the victims,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific, in a statement accompanying the report’s release.
    • “An officer gets punished if he doesn’t get results,” a former junior commander told Amnesty International. “In the army, people use force to control, not thought. An order is final…. If you don’t get results, you will be punished.” » The Christian Science article

    Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and the Thug Theory of Leadership

    • There have always been people in this world who get weak-kneed at the first whiff of authoritarianism. They think that the bullying bluster of self-styled strongmen makes them great leaders. They mistake heat for light.
    • Governing often requires dealing in gray areas, principled compromises that achieve a greater good. Particularly in geopolitics, it requires a balance between hard power and soft power. From Ike to George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, this wisdom is sometimes mistaken for weakness.
    • “Noise and impudence” is certainly one way to describe The Donald’s campaign style. Its nationalist, know-nothing appeal is emotional. Especially in times when people feel out of control—for example, when the forces of globalization are shaking every old tribal certainty—some folks gravitate to the guy who is strong and wrong. They are soothed by tough-guy theatrics that divide the world into us against them. They take comfort in the bully because they believe he’s got their back.
    • In a frightening world, thugs believe that raw power is the only way to get respect and terror is a tactic to that end. Putin learned it from the KGB. Trump learned it, at least in part, from his McCarthyite mob lawyer Roy Cohn: “Always attack, never apologize.” » The Daily Beast article – By John Avalon – September 10, 2016. »

    State of denial: Thailand

    • The trial of two Uighur men accused of the Erawan Shrine bombing in Bangkok a year ago begins today in a military court. The bomb killed 20 people, mostly Chinese and other Asian visitors, and came a month after Thailand’s junta shoved 100-odd asylum-seeking Muslim Uighurs in black hoods on a plane to China.
    • The generals deny any link; they blame unhappy human-traffickers.
    • The trial follows a fresh attack on the Thai state: a string of bombings in southern provinces culminating on August 12th, the queen’s birthday.
    • The junta has ruled out terrorism and blames politicians it ousted in 2014.
    • Just about everyone else, including the national chief of police, thinks the culprits are Malay-Muslim rebels, long locked in a deadly fight with Thai rule.
    • Democracy, growth and sensible policing once doused extremism. Under the current dictatorship, none of these is on offer.
      » The Economist Article – August 23, 2016.

    Thai junta accused of exploiting (recent) bombings for political ends

    • Critics of Thailand’s military government accused it on Sunday of taking advantage of last week’s spate of deadly bombings and arson attacks to crack down on its opponents.
    • Anthony Davis, a writer for Jane’s Defence Weekly, told The Associated Press that the Patani-Malay National Revolutionary Front separatist group was the sole opposition force that could carry out such a well-planned, well-coordinated operation in Thailand’s southern region.
    • With the Red Shirt movement being closely monitored by the security forces, “the theory that they could have organized such a complex operation under the noses of the military government makes no sense,” he said.
    • He added that if the supposed motive was anger over the recent referendum outcome, “the planning and preparation for these attacks would have had to take place within three days. And that makes even less sense.” » The AP article – August 14, 2016.

      Election Commission Report Shows 67% of eligible Thai voters did not vote for the Coup written Constitution, while 33% Voted “Yes”

      Coup written constitution vote

    • The country’s over 95,000 polling stations opened at 8am, and closed at 4pm. Though the EC predicted a turnout as high as 70 percent, this referendum reported a turnout even lower than the 2007 charter referendum, with only 55 percent out of 50.5 million eligible voters going to the polls compared to 2007’s 57.6 percent. » The Asian Correspondent article – August 8, 2016

    • More than 100 people who tried to campaign against the referendum on social media have been thrown in jail, and open criticism has been made punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
    • “If people cannot speak their minds freely or take part in political activities without fear, how can they meaningfully engage in this referendum,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. » The AP article – August 7, 2016.

  • Critics argue the constitution, to replace one torn up by the military after the coup, will entrench military rule.
  • The junta and the military-backed constitution writing committee say it is not aimed at perpetuating military rule.
  • Under the proposed charter, which would be Thailand’s 20th since the military abolished absolute monarchy in 1932, a junta-appointed Senate with seats reserved for military commanders would check the powers of elected lawmakers. » The Reuters article By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat – Thempgumpanat – August 5, 2016

  • Thailand: 8-year-old girls charged for tearing voter list because they liked ‘pink paper’

    • Police told local media on Friday they had advised election officials in the central province of Kamphaeng Phet to press charges against the girls, who tore the paper off a board in Vachirasansuksa School.
    • According to Khaosod English, provincial police chief Maj. Gen. Damrong Phetphong decided to charge the girls with vandalism after receiving complaints from the local election commissioner that they had destroyed commission property.
    • He was quoted saying: “There is no such thing as excessive enforcement of the law. The law has different punishments for adults, children, and drunk people. We follow regulations. The judge will be the one who decides.”
    • Damrong said the girls, who now have a criminal record, would be further questioned to determine if they had any criminal intent.
      » The Asian Correspondent article – July 24, 2016.

    Thai journalist detained while covering referendum

    • In the referendum, Thai citizens will vote to either accept or reject the draft, which many have criticized for being “undemocratic”.
    • In Article 61 of the Referendum Act, it is illegal to publish or disseminate “false”, “vulgar”, “inciteful”, or “intimidating” information regarding the referendum.
    • Those found convicted of breaching the ban can be punished with a maximum jail sentence of up to 10 years, fined up to 200,000 Baht, and have their electoral rights suspended for five years.
    • Despite identifying himself as a journalist, Taweesak was still detained by police. He is the first journalist to be arrested under a new law criminalizing criticism of the referendum. » The Asian Correspondent article – July 7, 2016

    Thai military court orders release of student constitution protesters

    • Thai people will vote in August 7’s referendum on a constitution drafted under the military government that took power in a May 2014 coup.
    • Critics say the draft is undemocratic, but are restrained from campaigning against it by very restrictive laws that could send them to prison for up to 10 years.
    • Election Commission Report on Referendum

      Coup leader warns opposition not to monitor upcoming referendum Image source
      SEVEN student protesters who were arrested last month for distributing leaflets urging people to vote against a proposed new constitution in a referendum next month were due to walk free this morning after a military court ordered police to release them.

    • More than two years after Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military junta seized power, there is still no clear roadmap for a return to democracy. Elections have already been pushed back a number of times, and will now take place in 2017 at the earliest. » The Asian Correspondent article

    Thai Junta Leader Warns Opposition Not to Monitor Upcoming Referendum

      Coup leader warns opposition not to monitor upcoming referendum Image source

    • The generals have imposed rules banning campaigning over a new constitutional.
    • General Prayut Chan-ocha,the leader of Thailand’s ruling military junta has warned so-called “red shirts” that they must not set up centers to monitor for electoral fraud when the country goes to the polls to approve a new constitution on Aug. 7.
    • Thais are to vote on whether to accept a new charter, which critics say will entrench the military’s power. The generals have imposed rules banning campaigning on the constitutional plebiscite, both for and against. » The Time article – June 20, 2016.

    Moving away from military dictatorship

    • Naypyidaw (Myanmar) (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday hailed Myanmar’s transition from army rule to a civilian government steered by Aung San Suu Kyi as a “remarkable statement” of support for global democracy.
    • Kerry applauded the process as a “remarkable statement to people all over the world”.
      As a reward for holding the peaceful election, Washington last week lifted a host of financial and trade embargoes.
    • But it has kept the backbone of its sanctions as well as a blacklist of cronies and businesses close to the former junta as leverage.
    • Suu Kyi said she welcomed the “scrutiny” inherent in the remaining sanctions.
    • The army retains significant economic interests and political clout under a charter it scripted — including a quarter of all parliamentary seats and control of key security ministries. » The Yahoo news article – By Phyo Hein Kyaw – May 22, 2016

    Burma’s new president vows to release political prisoners

    • The statement described the pardon as designed to “make people feel happy and peaceful, and [promote] national reconciliation during the New Year,” reported Agence France-Presse.
    • Htin Kyaw recently took over as head of Burma’s (Myanmar’s) first freely elected government after more than 50 years of often brutal military domination or control.
    • In its first official act at the end of March, the new government freed more than 100 political detainees awaiting trial just before the new year holiday. It isn’t clear exactly how many still remain.
    • In a televised address to the nation, Htin Kyaw said, “In the New Year, in order to give satisfaction to the majority of the people, we will continue to try to release political prisoners, political activists, and students facing trials related to politics.”
    • “We also have to try to avoid such arrests in the future,” he said, according to the Associated Press. » The full Asian Correspondent article – April 17, 2016.

    Foreign investment in Thailand plummeted last year

    • … official data showed, the latest sign that the kingdom’s once-vibrant economy continues to falter under prolonged military rule.
    • Total investment applied for by foreign companies between January and November 2015 plunged 78 percent from a year earlier to 93.8 billion baht ($2.62 billion), according to figures from Thailand’s state-run Board of Investment (BoI) sent to AFP late Tuesday.
    • It also faces stiff competition from increasingly attractive neighbors like Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.

    • EU investment also plunged from 86.7 billion baht in 2014 to just 2 billion baht last year. Investment from the United States was also heavily down, while Chinese investment was only down slightly.
    • Nearby Vietnam, on the other hand, reported a record number of foreign investment in 2015 and the fastest growth rate in five years at 6.68 percent.

  • Earlier this month the World Bank forecast that Thailand’s GDP growth rate would slip from 2.5 percent in 2015 to just 2 percent this year, by far the gloomiest regional prediction.
    » The AFP article – January 13, 2016
  • Election in Burma also known as Myanmar sees Aung San Suu Kyi triumph

    • Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to pay “special attention” to ties with China when her party takes office after its election triumph, and said foreign investments would need public support to help improve relations.
    • China was Myanmar’s lifeline for two decades when sanctions prevented most Western businesses and financial institutions from engaging with the country during military rule from 1962 to 2011 that left the nation underdeveloped.
    • But the stakes are now far higher for Beijing, with business competition heating up and the NLD’s anticipated sweeping-out of the last remnants of the old military guard with which Chinese firms enjoyed a close bond.
    • Many European and U.S. companies are expected to set up shop after the clear mandate for change in the Nov. 8 election, the first free poll in a quarter century. » The Rueters article – By Hnin Yadana Zaw and Antoni Slodkowski – November 18, 2015.

    Thai cop who implicated officials in trafficking seeks asylum

    • The police general who led Thailand’s probe into human trafficking said Thursday he was seeking political asylum in Australia, after fleeing the kingdom fearing for his life for implicating senior officials in the grim trade.
    • “I am asking for asylum because living in (Thailand) at this time is very dangerous,” Paween told AFP Thursday.
    • Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Melbourne in comments broadcast Thursday, he said he felt “deeply sad” about the situation.
    • “There are some good soldiers, but in the police and the military, there are some very bad ones involved in running the human trafficking,” Paween said.
    • “I feel deeply sad. It is so unfair that people who did these things will not be punished.”
    • Paween’s unit was disbanded and he was transferred to Thailand’s three insurgency-hit southernmost provinces, and the probe was declared complete in early October.
    • He resigned from the police rather than take up a new post, after allegedly receiving death threats.
    • The belated Thai crackdown came after the United States last year relegated the kingdom to the bottom rung of an influential report ranking nations on their anti-trafficking efforts.
    • It has remained on the bottom tier for a second year in a row, alongside nations like Iran, Libya, North Korea and Syria. » The AFP article – December 10, 2015.

      AP investigation prompts new round of slave rescues

    • Authorities in Papua New Guinea have rescued eight fishermen held on board a Thai-owned refrigerated cargo ship, and dozens of other boats are still being sought in response to an Associated Press report that included satellite photos and locations of slave vessels at sea.
    • The men are part of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of poor migrants from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos who are forced to fish for the Thai seafood industry. When workers run away, become sick or even die, they are easily replaced by new recruits who are tricked or coerced by false promises of jobs in Thailand.
    • journalists followed their slave-caught fish back to Thailand and linked it to the supply chains of major U.S. food sellers, such as Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger, and American pet food companies, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. The businesses have all said they strongly condemn labor abuse and vowed to take steps to prevent it. » The AP article – By Margie Mason and Martha Mendoza – July 30, 2015.
  • Thailand has hit back after being blacklisted in a US report for the second consecutive year for not combatting modern-day slavery, arguing it has made serious steps to tackle human trafficking.
  • In recent weeks, testimony from survivors, human rights groups and the media have exposed appalling practices in Thailand’s export-oriented seafood business, suggesting the human trafficking trade is still in operation. Link to Video
  • The US report said the Thai government was not making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
  • “Thailand investigated and prosecuted some cases against corrupt officials involved in trafficking, but trafficking-related corruption continued to impede progress,” the report said. » The Guardian article – July 28,2015.
  • Special Report: Inside Thailand’s trafficking crackdown

    • Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot, who led early anti-trafficking efforts in southern Thailand was told his investigation was damaging Thailand’s image, though he declined to be more specific about who was telling him that.
      “No one cared,” he said.
    • The trials could be lengthy and convictions are far from certain, police said.
    • On June 16, three men were arrested for intimidating a witness not to testify in the trials. Other witnesses have been threatened by “subordinates” of the accused against testifying, said Aek, the deputy national police chief. “The suspects are powerful people,” he said.
    • the scores of arrests so far may only represent a fraction of those involved, police say. “There could be hundreds of people involved, including many officials,” Thatchai said.
    • And despite the investigation and crackdown that began in late April, the traffickers’ finances seem largely intact. The United Nations estimates people-smuggling across the Bay of Bengal has generated about $250 million since 2012. Thailand has so far seized assets worth only $3.5 million.
    • Aek said Thai authorities “only froze assets of those we suspected of wrong-doing”.
    • Sheltering in the backroom of a provincial Thai police station is a 35-year-old street vendor who triggered a human trafficking investigation that has reverberated across Southeast Asia.
    • The roti seller dares not leave his new home in the provincial police station. He recently stopped praying at a nearby mosque after he heard that some men had turned up to look for him there.
    • Many known traffickers remained at large, which was why he hoped to be relocated to another country after the trial. “Otherwise,” he said, “I will be killed.” » The Reuters article – By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Andrew R.C. Marshall – July 9, 2015.

    Thailand misses aviation safety deadline

    • The U.N. body regulating world air traffic says Thailand has failed to meet a deadline for addressing safety concerns about its oversight of its airlines, so it has been added to a list of nations whose aviation authorities fall short of international standards.
    • ICAO audited Thailand in January, and in March gave Thai authorities 90 days to rectify shortcomings it had found. Thailand failed to meet the deadline and joined 12 other nations found deficient in managing their airlines. » The AP article – June 20, 2015.

    Thai year-old coup imposes superficial calm but little else

    • The problem, critics argue, is that the junta may be sowing the seeds of more conflict by building that future on its own terms — with reform committee, a rubber-stamp legislature, and no input from the Pheu Thai party it toppled or their supporters, who likely still represent a majority of the electorate.
    • Thailand’s ruling junta has blocked a panel discussion scheduled to take place this evening on the state of human rights in post-coup Thailand.
      The event was organized by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), with Khaosod English reporting that it was still going to send its members to the event at the scheduled time, 6pm. » The Asian Correspondent article – June 4, 2015.

    • “Our differences have just been pushed under the rug by a junta that prohibits freedom of expression. Nothing has been done to address the root causes of Thailand’s deep divide,” said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.
    • Last week, the military government announced it would subject the draft to a referendum. Sunai said that posed a dilemma. “If you vote yes, you end up with a Frankenstein constitution that undercuts liberal democracy.
    • If you vote no, they’ll have to go back to the drawing board, and Prayuth will just stay in power longer.” » The AP article – By Todd Pitman – May 23, 2015.

    Seafood from slavery: Can Thailand tackle the crisis in its fishing industry?

    • A chartered plane from Ambon, in eastern Indonesia, carried 125 men to Yangon on Thursday evening.
    • It was the biggest group repatriated following an Associated Press investigation that exposed labor abuses in the fishing industry involving hundreds of men being tricked or sold onto Thai boats and brought to Indonesian waters where they were forced to work nearly nonstop under brutal conditions. » The AP article – By Margie Mason – May 15, 2015.

    • But the problem of modern day slaves fishing for seafood that ends up on dinner plates on the other side of the world goes much further than these tiny Indonesian islands
    • The extent of the situation is hard to gauge. Thai government figures state that there are 145,000 working in its fishing industry, with 80% of those migrant workers, mainly from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. However, activist group Raks Thai Foundation suggests there are in excess of 200,000 trafficked, unregistered workers.
    • Crew manifests were not previously required.
    • “For the Marine Department we can check only a certain type of vessel, a certain size, too. But now the government is trying to reduce the size (of the vessel) that allows that we can check them,” said Chula Sukmanop, director-general to the Marine Department.
    • He added that enforcement is made more difficult because all too often ships will change crew once they leave port. » The CNN article – By Dean Irvine, Saima Mohsin, and Kocha Olarn – May 11, 2015.

    The Costs of Thai coup keep going up

    “There has been no sign of a strong economic recovery,” Benjarong Suwankiri, an economist at TMB Bank in Bangkok told Bloomberg News.

    “Growth will continue to be sluggish, as only the government’s spending has showed signs of picking up, while consumption, investment and exports are still very weak.” » The AFP article – May 18, 2015.

    • The country’s seemingly endless turmoil also finally seems to have deterred investors, who for years continued to pour money into the kingdom because of its natural attractiveness and history of liberal investment policies. At the same time as Thailand stalls, other countries in the region, like the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, and even Indonesia have promoted policies that have made them more attractive to foreign investment.
    • Japanese investors, the biggest group of foreign investors in the kingdom, have begun to shift new investments to Vietnam and other countries in the region. Other foreign investors have become increasingly cautious in approving new Thailand projects.
    • Thailand’s gross domestic product expansion has been about half that of its neighbors through much of the period amid political turmoil, including a coup last May and martial law since. » Bloomberg article – By Lee J. Miller
    • Household debt is particularly worrying in Thailand and Malaysia, but the official data may not capture the full picture for families around the region.
    • In Thailand, for example, household debt climbed to a record 85.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of 2014, data from the central bank showed.
    • The household debt of low-income earners is expected to surge this year, as the glum economic conditions and relatively high cost of living will lead them to rely more on both organized and unorganized loans. » The Thailand Business news article – By Boris Sullivan – May 4, 2015.

    Coup leader takes absolute power

    • The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on Thursday that the Thai military government had replaced martial law “with something even more draconian” and called for a return to civilian rule.
    • The nation’s coup leader has said he will invoke a special security measure in its place that critics say gives him unchecked authority over all three branches of government and absolves him of any legal responsibility for his actions. » The AP article – April 2, 2015.
  • The U.N. High Commissioner said the decision “leaves the door wide open to serious violations of fundamental human rights” and “annihilates freedom of expression”.
  • Freedom of assembly also remains severely curtailed, with heavy punishment for protesters who gather in groups of more than five, he added.
  • “In effect, this means the sweeping away of all checks and balances on the power of the Government, rendering the lifting of martial law meaningless.” » The Reuters article – BY Stephanie Nebehay – April 2, 2015.
    • Human Rights Watch said the move “will mark Thailand’s deepening descent into dictatorship.”

    • “Thailand’s friends abroad should not be fooled by this obvious sleight of hand by the junta leader to replace martial law with a constitutional provision that effectively provides unlimited and unaccountable powers,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. » The Ap article – By Jocelynn Gecker – April 1, 2015.
  • “Article 44 essentially means Prayuth is the law. He can order the detention of anyone without charge, without having to put the person on trial and for as long as he desires,” Pravit Rojanaphruk, an outspoken columnist for The Nation newspaper, wrote Tuesday.
  • Thai media have referred to Article 44 as “the dictator law.” Under a similar law in the 1960s, a Thai dictator carried out summary executions.
  • The measure gives Prayuth power over all aspects of government, law and order, and absolves him of any legal responsibility for his actions.
  • The Geneva-based rights group, the International Commission of Jurists, expressed strong reservations about Article 44.

    “Article 44 violates the fundamental pillars of the rule of law and human rights, including equality, accountability, and predictability,” the group’s secretary general, Wilder Tayler, said in a statement posted on its website. He said the statute would not be a real improvement over martial law, which he said should be lifted in favor of returning to civilian rule. » The AP article – March 31, 2015

  • Human trafficking and Slave Labor

    • The AP reported earlier this week that slaves — some of them beaten and locked in cages — are forced to fish, and their catch ends up in the supply chains of American supermarkets and restaurants. The migration agency said Friday that the report follows several years of close work with Indonesian authorities to rescue hundreds of fisherman identified as victims of trafficking.
    • Many of the stranded are men from Myanmar who went to neighboring Thailand in search of work. They were taken by boat to Indonesia, which has some of the world’s richest fishing grounds. Others left behind on the islands are Cambodian and a few from the poorer parts of Thailand.
    • Major leaders in the U.S. seafood and retail industries sent a letter to the ambassadors of Thailand and Indonesia this week, demanding to know what will be done to free slaves in the seafood industry. Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, also urged Thai authorities to tackle the scourge.
    • “The Thailand government has made repeated verbal commitments to get tough with traffickers but every time real follow-up has been lacking,” Robertson said in an email. “The question now is whether the revelations in AP’s article will finally be enough to push Thailand to take long overdue action against fishing vessels that are systematically using slave labor to catch the seafood ending up in America’s kitchens.” The AP article – By Margie Mason and Robin McDowell – March 28, 2015.

    Coup government criticized

    • In a speech to students at Chulalongkorn University on Monday, Daniel Russel, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs — America’s highest-level diplomat to visit Thailand since the coup — said the perception of fairness is important to justice.
    • “I’ll be blunt here: When an elected leader is deposed, impeached by the authorities that implemented the coup, and then targeted with criminal charges while basic democratic processes and institutions are interrupted, the international community is left with the impression that these steps could be politically driven,” Russel said.
    • Russel also expressed concern over “significant restraints on freedom of expression” in Thailand today, and said the country’s political process does not represent “all elements of Thai society” — a reference to reforms, including the writing of a new constitution, which are going ahead without input from the popularly elected former ruling party. » The AP article– January 28, 2015.

    • “Thai democracy has died along with the rule of law,” Ms Yingluck, whose administration was ousted by the military in a coup last May, said in a statement posted on her Facebook page. “I will fight until the end to prove my innocence, no matter what the outcome will be.
    • “And most importantly, I want to stand alongside the Thai people. Together we must bring Thailand prosperity, bring back democracy and truly build justice in Thai society,” she added. » The Strait Times article – By Tan Hui Yee – January 23, 2015.

  • Yingluck defended the (Rice Subsidy Program) in an almost hour-long address on Thursday, and disputed all the charges against her.
  • “Banning me for five years would be a violation of my basic rights,” Yingluck said at the third and final hearing on her case on Thursday at Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA).
  • “This case that is aimed solely against me has a hidden agenda, it is politically driven.”
  • Yingluck said the rice scheme, which paid farmers above the market rate for their rice, was good for the economy. “It helped those with lower incomes earn more,” she said. “Farmers are the backbone of the country.” » The Reuters article – By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Aukkarapon Niyomyat – January 22,2015

      UN warns world could have 40 percent water shortfall by 2030

    • The U.N. is warning that the world could suffer a 40 percent shortfall in water by 2030 unless countries dramatically change their use of the resource.
    • Many underground water reserves are already running low, while rainfall patterns are predicted to become more erratic with climate change. As the world’s population grows to an expected 9 billion by 2050, more groundwater will likely be used in farming, industry and for personal consumption.
    • In a report issued in India on Friday, the U.N. says if current trends don’t change, the world will have only 60 percent of the water it needs in 2030, and demand will rise 55 percent by 2050.
    • The shortfall could cause crops to fail, industries to collapse, ecosystems to break down, and trigger violent conflicts over water rights. » The AP article – March 22, 2015

      Domestic stockpiling of rice as in Thailand and India wins US support

    • India won U.S. support for a massive domestic food stockpiling scheme on Thursday, rescuing the biggest global trade deal in two decades and giving new Prime Minister Narendra Modi a victory without major concessions.
    • Under the pact with Washington, India will lift a veto on a global agreement on streamlining customs rules that is likely to add $1 trillion to the world economy as well as 21 million jobs – 18 million of them in developing countries.
    • In talks to break the deadlock, India stressed the importance of ensuring that its 1.25 billion people, many of them poor, have enough to eat. It won an open-ended commitment from Washington to protect its food purchase and distribution scheme from any challenge under WTO disputes procedures.
    • Without the clause, India could have been vulnerable to attack by trade partners over exports of any surplus grain stocks accumulated in government warehouses.
    • India refused to bow to calls to scale back its scheme to buy wheat and rice from its farmers, despite criticism that this encouraged overproduction. A food security law passed by the last government actually expanded the number who were entitled to receive cheap food grains to 850 million. » The Reuters article – By Manoj Kumar and Krista Hughes – November 13, 2014.


      The Thai rice program under the Yingluck government did not loose money as alleged by political opponents.

    • Farmers that received payment for their rice helped the domestic economy as they spent what they had earned.
    • As the rice stockpiled is sold, the difference between the sales price and the amount paid to the farmers will determine how much the Thai government program will have subsidized the farmers.
    • Governments throughout the world provide subsidies to their farmers. The subsidies try to keep farmers farming to insure there is enough food on the table for the farmers and the rest of the world.
      • When farmers grow more food and earn more income, they are better able feed to their families, send their children to school, provide for their family’s health, and invest in their farms. This makes their communities economically stronger and more stable. » the full report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Running Out of Rice?
      Overview of Lesson Plan | In this lesson, students learn about the reasons for Australia’s rice shortage and its impact on the rest of the world. They then individually identify the causes and effects of another agricultural commodity’s recent changes in the global marketplace. » The Science and Economy Lesson.

    Planting paddy rice in Laos Image credit – Photographer: Stuart Ling
    In Laos, an agriculture official recently said the method, called the System of Rice Intensification, or SRI, had doubled the size of rice crops in three provinces and would spread to the whole country because it had provided greater yields with fewer resources.

    • Related Background: Get More From Less With System of Rice Intensification (SRI) –
      Using SRI, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines have all recorded increases in rice yields from 60% to over 170% » The World Bank article and guide to planting.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Addressing Hunger Around the Globe
      Overview | In this lesson, developed in recognition of World Food Day, students consider the definition of hunger and where and how hunger most affects people, including children. They then consider the fact that hunger is “solvable” and create action plans to inform and engage their communities. Go to this Science and Economy Lesson.

    Coping with Disease on a Global Population

    Obama on Ebola crisis: ‘We must be guided by facts not fear’

    • President Barack Obama says the U.S. must be guided by science — not fear — as it responds to Ebola.
    • In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama says he was proud to give Texas nurse Nina Pham a hug in the Oval Office after she was cured of Ebola. He says the other nurse who contracted Ebola is also improving.
      President Barack Obama greets Nina Pham

    • Obama is praising New York’s quick reaction to its first Ebola case. He says he’s promised local officials any federal help they need.
    • Obama is reminding Americans they can’t contract Ebola unless they come into direct contact with a patient’s bodily fluids.
    • The president says the U.S. can beat the disease if it remains vigilant. He says the best way to stop it is at its source in West Africa. » The AP article – October 26, 2014

    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Fighting Disease: Researching the History and Biology of Vaccines
      Overview | What is a vaccine, and why do we need them? How do vaccines work, and how were they developed? In this lesson, students gauge their previous knowledge about vaccines. They then explore the history and biology of vaccines and create educational posters on the nature of vaccines and public opinions about them.
      Go to this Health and Building Society Lesson.
    • Related Lesson – Nothing to Sneeze At

      Enlisting (Thai) villagers in 2006 flu battle – set a global example  “Thailand ha(d) mobilized about 750,000 volunteers (under the Thaksin government) one for every 15 rural households.” ‘This is something that all over the world we’ve been trying to promote. And this is probably the best example that I’ve ever seen.’ said William Aldis, the representative of the World Health Organization in Thailand.” Go to the article – By Thomas Fuller – International Herald Tribune

    When the News Ignites a Fuse

      Thailand’s censors ban ‘Tropico 5′ video game

    • Ever since the military coup of May 22, 2014 the junta that is ruling Thailand has imposed strict censorship measures on the media and has shown repeatedly that it will not tolerate criticism.
    • Journalists, if they have been temporary detained or reprimanded, have toned their reports down and partisan satellite channels (read: those of political parties) are still off air. The same heavy hand also extends to online and social media, where hundreds of websites have been blocked that carry anti-coup and anti-monarchy contents.
    • Now, the junta’s censorship measures have taken their strangest turn so far:
    • Censors under Thailand’s military junta have banned a city-building simulation computer game, saying it could hurt the country’s security, a video game distributor said Monday.
    • The film and video censorship office blocked sales of “Tropico 5″ because they feared “some part of its content might affect peace and order in the country,” New Era said.
    • She said the office, part of the Culture Ministry’s cultural promotion department, did not provide any further explanation in a written statement received by the distributor on Monday.
  • A video game distributor says Thailand’s film and video censors have banned a city-building simulation game for computers because it could hurt the country’s security.
  • In fact, the whole game franchise is a parody of a stereotypical Latin American banana republic and other historical figures that have meddled there. That has been the case in the previous four games, but the fifth one is apparently too much for the ThaiMiniCult to handle. At this point, the censorship seems already baseless and frivolous – if it wasn’t for this cherry on top:
  • “Playing a game is different from watching a movie, as this game allows all players to express their beliefs without fear of law, so it is inappropriate to distribute such a game, especially during the current situation,” Cultural Promotion Department chief Chai Nakhonchaihe. » The Asian Correspondent article – By Saksith Saiyasombut & Siam Voices August 06, 2014.

    • Thailand marketing manager Nonglak Sahavattanapong said the company will not appeal the decision.
    • Thailand has been under a military dictatorship since May 22, when soldiers overthrew a civilian government in a coup. » The AP article – August 5, 2014.

    Fighting intolerance Image source

    • The New York Times – Learning Network – When the News Ignites a Fuse
      Overview | Students examine news stories and images that have incited violence in the past to put into historical context recent news coverage. Go to this Media and Building a Healthy Society Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Keeping It Quiet
      Overview | Students consider ways in which countries use censorship to control information. Go to this Law and Society Lesson.
    • World Wise SchoolLooking at ourselves and others
      | Students will recognize that their classmates hold a variety of opinions. Students will see how personal tastes and experiences – in addition to culture – influence our perspectives. Go to this Building Society Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – The Political is Personal
      Overview | Students explore their own personal political philosophies by identifying events, people and experiences that have helped shape their beliefs and writing an essay. Go to this Building Society and ESL Lesson.

    Changing the military created constitution in Burma before 2015 elections

    Forward from Burma’s military created constitution

    • Suu Kyi is trying to change key sections of Myanmar’s charter ahead of 2015 polls that are widely expected to be won by her National League for Democracy (NLD), if they are free and fair, after decades of disastrous military rule.
    • Myanmar’s previous general election in 2010 was marred by widespread accusations of cheating and held without Suu Kyi, who was kept under lock and key until days after the vote, or her NLD party.
    • The polls came as the military relinquished its outright control of the government, after decades of misrule in which they turned Myanmar into a diplomatic pariah and drove the economy into the ground.
    • To alter the constitution there needs to be support from a 75 percent majority in parliament, and as unelected soldiers make up a quarter of the legislature they have the last say on any changes.
    • The extraordinary talks Friday — the first of their kind as the nation emerges from decades of outright military rule — saw Thein Sein and Suu Kyi walk into the meeting together.
    • The discussions came a day after the White House said US President Barack Obama spoke to Thein Sein and Suu Kyi about the elections, which are seen as a key test of democratic reforms under the quasi-civilian government.
    • Suu Kyi, however, downplayed the outcome of the meeting in comments to reporters.
      “I do not know how they stated the meeting was a success,” she said, adding the NLD would like to see a more focussed discussion with a smaller group of people. » The Yahoo AFP article – By Hla-Hla Htay – October 31.2014.

    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Democracy in Action
      Overview | Students consider words that reflect their knowledge and opinions about democracy. They then work in groups to research countries that have recently transitioned to democratic forms of government. Their learning is further enhanced by reflecting on what has transpired in these countries to date. Go to this Building Society and Law Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – The Political is Personal
      Overview | Students explore their own personal political philosophies by identifying events, people and experiences that have helped shape their beliefs and writing an essay. Go to this Building Society and ESL Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Justices for All
      Overview | In this lesson, students examine the role of Supreme Court justices in the American political process. Students will research the qualities of the current Supreme Court justices and write opinion papers evaluating the current justices and recommending future nominations. Go to this Law and Society Lesson.