Thursday, June 29, 2006

US - Thai FTA: 'democratic' Thai government's refusal to discuss FTA leads to irrational debate

<-the question mark is ironic. So is the use of the word 'whore', which should probably have a comma after it.

from the Nation:
'Rational debate on FTA nearly impossible'

Allegations have surfaced that the Bush administration intervened earlier this year to arrange the transfer out of Thailand of a World Health Organisation representative who published comments critical of the proposed Thai-US free-trade agreement (FTA).


They have also revived interest here in the FTA, an issue lost in the shuffle of Thailand's ongoing political crisis and privately viewed as dead by even high-ranking officers of the US State Department. Evidently, these officers' views have not reached the US Consul-General in Chiang Mai, who last week organised another of her government's series of attempts to educate the Thai public about the benefits of the FTA. Insulting to Thailand as they are, these attempts do call attention to a general lack of clarity, perspective and constructive debate on the proposed FTA in the Kingdom.

The history of Bangkok's dealings with the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is not a happy one. A major local daily once suggested wryly that President Bill Clinton's USTR, Charlene Barshefsky, took as her personal motto: "Free trade is what I say it is." And it would be fair for Bangkok to remind Barshefsky's successors at the USTR, early and often, that American pressure to liberalise the Thai financial sector during the early 1990s resulted in the Bangkok International Banking Facility (BIBF). As much as any other single factor, US-dollar-denominated loans taken under the BIBF by firms with baht revenues accounted for the 1997 financial crisis. [ed. disagree, artificially high valuation of the baht, lack of public and private sector transparency as well as rampant crony-lending was what brought about the Thai financial 'crisis'. This was a banking system was run by Thais, for Thais, resulting in the standard practice of massive loans to insolvent firms headed by corrupt government officials]

It is also important to note that Washington's current lead negotiator on the proposed FTA, Assistant United States Trade Representative for the Asia-Pacific (and for Pharmaceuticals) Barbara Weisel, brings immense knowledge and sophistication to her task. She very well may, in fact, have thought through Thailand's trade position and international economic interests more rigorously than the Thai officials whom she has faced across the negotiating table. [ed. sad, but if Thailand wants to sit at the big table, like it's always begging to do, then it needs to pick civil servants based on ability, not pompous fools with huge empty heads and family connections]. Her job does not, however, include looking out for those interests. Nor can her grasp of economic issues be expected to extend to other realms of Thai life that the FTA would affect. [ed. actually she probably understands more about average Thai life, at least on a practical and public-health level, than the pale-skinned Thammasat graduates sitting across from her].

For it needs bluntly to be pointed out that compliance with the US-Thai FTA of which Weisel, the American economic interests she represents and the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand (AmCham) dream will require transformation of many domains of Thai life as it has long been known. That in a number of those domains, Thailand has not yet returned to a stable, pre-1997 equilibrium empowers those foreign interests. [ed. examples?]

The smaller, pre-crisis American business community in Thailand understood the country and appreciated its sensitivities far better than today's. [ed. hmmm, sounds like a personal beef, no pun intended] This change helps explain the audacious nature of some of its demands for the FTA.

What is harder to explain is current Thai reluctance to call that audacity what it is. This reluctance may or may not also reflect a continuing post-1997 lack of cultural and social self-assurance in Thailand. But it means the job of debating the FTA has been left largely to rather utopian non-governmental organisation (NGO) activists. They have made many valid points in their cautionary attacks on the proposed agreement. Those attacks have, however, not yet served the cause of clear debate well, for several reasons:

First, the polarising effect ... of [Thaksin Shinawatra's] very approach to government [including his personal sale of Shin Corp. to Singapore's Temasek] during the past five and a half years has made rational discussion of public-policy issues almost impossible.

Second - and compounding the problem - the Thaksin government and Thai advocates of the FTA have, through cowardice or incompetence, failed to make a case for the agreement.

One particularly important example of this failure lies in the area of extended intellectual-property protection for pharmaceuticals. In fact, the global pharmaceutical industry's determination to secure such protection relates to Thailand's aspiration to become a leading biomedical research hub. The industry expects such a hub to take its side in the protection of patent rights, which it considers the foundation of pharmaceutical innovation. This perspective has never surfaced in local debate over the FTA, nor have the possibility of Thailand's emergence as a biomedical research hub and the benefits that that development might bring to the Thai economy. The failure of local advocates of the FTA to make their case in detail and with honesty helps explain the efforts of Washington's representatives to educate the Thai public themselves.

Third, by holding themselves above electoral politics and not offering a progressive alternative to urban poor and rural voters, NGO activists and their sympathisers have similarly failed the country. They have ceded those voters' support to the Thai Rak Thai Party. And they have dodged the need to make a compelling, detailed, comprehensive case against the FTA and for their own vision for the future of the Thai economy in the global arena. Instead, they confuse talking to each other with contributing to the public good in a democratic society. [ed. excellent points]

Fourth, enemies of the Thai-US FTA, no matter what its eventual content, have too rarely admitted they now seek to close the barn door after the horse has already run off. Because trade experts - and, tacitly, Bangkok's business elite - understand that the Thai-Chinese FTA in effect since 2003 is far more disadvantageous to Thailand and those Thai values and interests that NGOs here seek to protect than anything now demanded by the USTR and AmCham.

Fifth, ever since His Majesty King Mongkut and Chaophraya Si Suriyawong (Chuang Bunnag) negotiated the Bowring Treaty with the United Kingdom in 1855, Thailand has been integrated into the world economy. Some economic historians have argued that in comparison with Japan, for example, the terms of Thailand's integration condemned it to sustained underdevelopment and only ersatz industrialisation. Other observers credit Thailand showing remarkable flexibility in adapting to the demands of the world economy and achieving prosperity and growth.[ed. what was Thailand going to do, build space shuttles?]

Failure to conclude an FTA with the United States would not bring this historical pattern of integration to an end overnight. [ed. no, only education would do that, but that's not a government priority] But it is worth recalling that prior to the Bowring Treaty, Thailand's international trade was largely with China and very much on China's terms. Concluding an FTA with China but not the US may well drastically limit Thailand's flexibility in the future, especially as China grows more and more powerful and aggressive in regional affairs.

Should Thailand conclude an FTA with the United States? At this time, a good answer is impossible. And such an answer is not even desirable. For perspective, clarity, and debate have not yet been brought to bear on the real costs and potential benefits that an FTA would involve. The maturity, responsibility and sophistication that speakers and listeners alike demonstrated night after night in the anti-Thaksin rallies this year have been sorely missing from discussion of the agreement. But during both the negotiation and ratification phases of any Thai-US FTA and on the part both of the government and the public, clear, cogent and serious debate is clearly possible and clearly necessary.

Michael J Montesano is an assistant professor in the Southeast Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore and visiting researcher in the Regional Studies Programme at Nakhon Si Thammarat's Walailak University.

Michael J Montesano

Special to The Nation

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Each Thai Rak Thai MP candidate given a $5,000 personal grant to remain with party

Outside of some cartoony regimes in Africa, I can't think of another place where it's perfectly legal for a political party to openly bribe its members. This isn't campaign financing, soft money, or 'pork barrel' politics. This is straight-up 'Here's a wad of cash for your personal use, now be a good guy and don't change parties.'

Each MP hopeful given Bt200,000 incentive to stay

Ruling party leader attempts to lock in support as battle for TRT's future looms

Thai Rak Thai Party leader Thaksin Shinawatra has doled out Bt200,000 for each of his MPs seeking re-election in a show of confidence that he can secure a comeback as prime minister and win the court battle over the disbanding of his party.


"Thai Rak Thai will never be disbanded. It is a major party in Thailand and all hell will break loose if its extinction is decreed," a source quoted Thaksin as saying at yesterday's party meeting.


"Please rest assured that the new election will happen and that Thai Rak Thai will win another term under my leadership," he said.

Reacting to reports that Thaksin had inside information on the prosecution order against Thai Rak Thai, party executive Suranand Vejjajiva said Thaksin had heard about the matter from the local press.

"The ruling party had no advance warning," he said.

Suranand said the ruling party was innocent and was not involved in the bankrolling of small parties.

He said he had found no precedent for disbanding a ruling party anywhere in the world. In the United States, the Republican Party remained intact after the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, he added. [ed. true, but Thailand's ad hoc constitutional and legal framework has always differed radically from that of the US or any semi-civilized nation, so it stands to reason the results will be uniquely Thai as well. Besides, it's all right there, written down in the Thai constitution. Suranand should take a look at that document some time.]

Thailand, the land of a thousand polyster garments

One thing that hasn't changed in SE-Asia for more than 30 years is the relentless use of polyster. In fact, it's maddeningly hard to find anything that's not 100% plastic, from shirts to shoes. Thai silk? If you buy a 'silk' tie here, you're most likely buying rayon or straight up polyester (which is actually very similar in feel, 'Thai' silk having a rougher and cheaper feeling in hand than you'd expect).

from The Nation:


The survey conducted by Cotton USA found that Thai and British consumers were less concerned about the type of textile used in the clothing. Only 29 per cent of the Thais surveyed said they often look at the fabric label when purchasing clothes, whereas 65 per cent of Chinese consumers carefully examine the fabric label.


I'm surprised even 29 percent look at the label, except out of misguided belief that there is some functional difference between types of synthetics. It's all brand driven, with little variation in style and almost none in quality. Price tracks brand, however, and there can be huge differences in price depending on where you shop for essentially the same goods.

This is one of those tricks that Thai cosnumers can't seem to figure out. For all the tacky unbridled greed and consumerism here, the mentality really remains at the kindergarten level in terms of skills of discernment.

despite all the shlock about Thai hospitality, Bangkok 'courtesy' ranks near bottom of the manners pile in Reader's Digest global survey

My only surprise is that Bangkok did not rank lower than 25th out of 35.

Keep in mind that this courtesy survey was conducted mostly around the downtown / hotel areas. Get outside of this (comparatively) orderly enclave into the actual neighborhoods and the behavior gets much worse.

Courtesy? What a load of old cobblers!

Get upset when people push past you to pile into a lift before you've had a chance to get out first? Disappointed when strangers refuse to say "thanks" when you hold open a door for them?

How about people chatting during a movie? Or who jump in front of you in a queue?

These sorts of small but tiringly irksome incidents are far too common in Bangkok, it would seem. Indeed, our so-called "City of Angels" has received a devil of a ranking in a survey by Reader's Digest of the the levels of courtesy shown to researchers in major cities around the world.

"This was the world's biggest real-life test of common courtesy," said Kaidsuda Suriyayos, managing editor of Reader's Digest Sansara Thai edition.

"Our researchers conducted more than 2,000 separate tests of actual behaviour, producing results that were both revealing and thought-provoking."

Out of 35 cities around the world, Bangkok came 25th in the magazine's latest survey, conducted to find out more about the "dying art" of courtesy.

The magazine's reporters were dispatched to different corners of the world to assess politeness in the most populous city in 35 countries. In every location, they staged scenarios to see if people would hold open a door, say "thank you" after making a sale in a shop, and help someone pick up papers dropped in a busy location. Points were awarded for polite responses, and the results for each city tallied and compared.


In Bangkok, a teenage girl entering a crowded department store let the door swing back without looking behind. "I've never glanced back to hold doors for others before; this kind of behaviour is not common for me," she told the researcher. [ed. no doubt; many Thais have seemingly made it all the way to adulthood without a single lesson in citizenship or manners. Think that sounds superficial or silly? Visit Thailand and see what a difference a lack of basic manners can make]

...The magazine said that eight out of nine Asian cities finished in the bottom 11.

Worldwide, New York topped the list for the most courteous residents, followed by Zurich, Toronto, Berlin, Zagreb and Sao Paulo, respectively.

Reader's Digest quoted Niwes Kanthairaj, a renowned columnist on social affairs, as saying: "The effort to develop generosity is not enough. People tend to forget to be considerate, to be concerned for other's feelings, which is part of basic manners in a society."

The survey results will be published in the Reader's Digest next month. The magazine claims it is the most extensive global collaboration in its 84-year history.

The Nation

Thai PM meets with Attorney General on eve of major decision in case

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra met one-on-one with Attorney General Prachara Yutithamdamrong, the evening before the AG was to decide whether to seek dissolution of the PM's ruling party on electoral fraud charges.

Prachara said the meeting was not about the electoral fraud case, but rather the unrelated issue of unrest in the Southern provinces. No explanation was given as to the bizarre and highly unlikely timing of the meeting. No transcripts, summaries or minutes of their discussion were made available.

That Prachara agreed to hold such a meeting on the eve of an important decision involving the PM raises obvious concerns about Prachara's judgment, at best, and integrity, at worst.

The next day, Prachara issued his recommendation. The AG recommended not just the dissolution of Thai Rak Thai (TRT), but all five major political parties in Thailand.

As strategy, the AG's 'loaded' recommendation is quite brilliant in that it will most likely result in no party being dissolved, since all would have to be. It is highly unlikely that the Constitution Court would ever agree to dissolve all stakeholders in the current political process.

At the same time, the AG's recommendation provides perfect political cover for both Prachara and Thaksin by seeming to go against the ruling party.

The Constitution Court has no particular deadline for ruling on this matter, so the current political impasse could stretch well into 2007, believe it or not, as a firm date for new elections (tentatively scheduled for Oct 15) will probably not be set until the case is resolved.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bangkok BTS installs television sets in skytrain carriages

I managed to dig out the original article before it disappeared from The Nation website, so here it is:

from The Nation:

Commuters want peace quiet

TV sets have been installed in some Skytrain carriages to show advertisements, much to the dismay of many passengers.

If Bangkok isn't already noisy enough, now there is TV inside the Skytrain

People fed up with noise pollution in Bangkok have turned their wrath on the operators of the Skytrain over loud television sets installed in train carriages.

They recently formed a group and issued their first statement yesterday calling on the mass transit operator to stop bombarding them with unwanted noise.

"It's tiring and we don't like the noise. We have to put up with visual pollution and now noise pollution," said Panchalie Sathirasas, a well-known potter who represents the newly-formed People Who Love Quiet Club.

Television monitors have been installed by BTS on six of its trains to show advertisements with the volume turned up. The test run, said a BTS public relations official, began earlier this month.

But Panchalie, who formed the group with 90 others, including academics, writers, office workers and media people, said it was time to oppose the new audio-visual ads inside the carriages.

It was bad enough that commuters had to listen to blaring television sets on the platforms while waiting for a train.

"It's loud outside [on the platform] but it used to be quiet inside [the carriage].

"We put up with it. But they're taking too much advantage of us now.

"It's also tasteless and perhaps illegal," she said.

The group's statement issued to The Nation said their peace of mind had been disturbed by this latest attempt to force advertising on commuters.

"When we go to work in the morning, our heads are still clear but we're forced to listen to these televisions.

"When we return home we are tired and need rest. Instead we have to put up with this irritating noise again which causes headaches and a bad mood," the group said.

"Please spare our ears . . . We have enough with other noise intrusion."

Other countries, Panchalie said, do not allow the volume to be turned on.

"We will wait for their response. But we shall continue [the protest] and the numbers will grow," she vowed, saying two weeks should be enough time for the BTS management to do something.

Panchalie said the group had contacted Bangkok Governor Apirak Kosayodhin but had received no reply from him.

The Skytrain management has made no response to the complaint, saying only that

the matter was a "sensitive" issue.

"I'll inform you later," Kannikar Tor-trakul, a BTS public relations officer, said about the Skytrain management meeting to discuss the matter.

For now, it seems, the television are there to stay.

Panchalie Sathirasas and the People Who Love Quiet Club

More information on Khun Panchalie's quest for noise abatement can be found here:

There's a good 'noise map' on there was well.

Unfortunately, no info on how to join. I think a lot of people would be willing to fork over some membership dues. No doubt a better use of money than, say, joining the Siam Society.

A google search also reveals that she is a ceramic artist of some renown.

Her quest for enforcement of noise laws in Bangkok apparently stems from the severe, permanent, and totally preventable damage to her hearing she has suffered while living in Bangkok, a fact which saddens and enrages me to no end.

from today's letters to The Nation:

Carry anti-noise campaign right across the country

Re: Three (silent) cheers for the People Who Love Quiet Club, Letters, June 23.

Panchalie Sathirasas and her "PWLQC" are terrific news for Thailand. I had always thought the Thai people had some hereditary condition by which they were unable to survive in ambient noise levels less than 80dBA. Happily, I was wrong.

When Khun Panchalie has sorted out Bangkok's transport systems, I would invite her to tour up and down Thailand's coastlines to explain to resort operators that holidaymakers do not want to hear "Hotel California" or Thai pop divas singing down their noses while they are eating their corn flakes. Actually, they prefer to hear the sound of waves lapping on the beach.

Then she could turn her attention to inland waterways, starting at Kanchanaburi. To have garishly-lit barges decorated as steam locomotives, floating in a river, blaring out amplified "chugging" noises at a thousand times their natural volume is not only absurd, it is probably disturbing to the families of victims of the Death Railway who have come to pay their respects. [ed. tourism in Thailand is not about what foreigners want, it is about what Thais decide foreigners want]

As a longer-term project, perhaps she could help the government draw up an enforceable Noise Abatement Act. I am sure it would be welcomed by the foreign property owners of Phuket and elsewhere whose quality of life (not to mention property value) has been wrecked by noise from adjacent karaoke bars, mafia-run and therefore "untouchable".

How do we sign up to PWLQC? I want to be part of the (silent) action.

Suvarnabhumi Airport - latest vehicle for policy corruption

The Thai cabinet has given preliminary approval to a scheme to create an entirely new province around the yet to be opened Suvarnabhumi (pronounced Su-wanna-poom) international airport. This is to facilitate infrastructure improvements in the area surrounding the new airport, huge tracts of which are owned by leading members of the current ruling party (Thai Rak Thai, or "Thai Love Thai").

The fact that this will be costly and of no public good is perhaps the reason why it was not debated or put forward for public or parliamentary approval.

A brazenly undemocratic move, especially for an interim government with absolutely no legal or popular mandate (the last election was annulled due to rampant corruption).

Truly remarkable in that months of protests aimed at toppling the current regime were sparked by exactly this kind of opaque public policy implementation.

If there are good reasons for the creation of another province/metropolis right in the shadow of Bangkok, and why this can't wait until a legally elected government can review the issue, then it should be simple enough for the caretaker regime to state those reasons.

New airport metropolis is a well planned attempt to grab taxpayer money

I don't think it takes that much discussion of the pros and cons to convince people about the unfeasibility of building a metropolis surrounding the new Suvarnabhumi Airport and in the shadow of Bangkok Metropolis.

This mega project is fit only for the dustbin for two reasons:

1. No such city can be found on earth today. Dear planners, you can go ahead with your mega project if you can find an example. [ed. a good example of the arrogance of the current regime (and most 'credentialed' Thais) is this kind of 'closed room' 'Thai-know-best' decision-making whereby reactionary 'solutions' to often imaginary problems are implemented without a moment's research into how similar situations have been handled by other countries]

2. State investment in infrastructure and real estate around the Suvarnabhumi area will have to be increased several times over. We taxpayers have to pay for the enormous extra costs, most of which will go into the pockets of land speculators and project contractors who are close to the government.

At first I thought they must have been blinded by lust for gain; no, they are clear-headed with a lust for gain. They have long planned it and must have it done at all costs - all costs on the people - for their dirty gain. Watch out, they are starting to advertise the mirage on TV - at our expense.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

No requests for improvement please, we're Thai

Thais seem to have a problem with criticism. Any suggestion, no matter how diplomatically couched, is typically met with anger and accusations of whining (or worse). Sadly, many 'bamboo' foreigners in Thailand parrot this low-brow reactionary line, for reasons that are still unclear to me.

The letter below serves as a good response.

from letters to the Nation

Asking for improvement is not simply whining

Re: "Farangs like low cost of living but want it to be like home", Letters, June 21.

Meechai Burapa said he thought farangs were "whining" too much regarding lack of English commentary in Thailand for the World Cup. Why that should upset him is anybody's guess since Thailand's image would have been enhanced in the eyes of visitors, in that it would have come across as a progressive, modern, and forward-looking country. He also makes the unrealistic observation that there was never any Thai language commentary for televised sports events during his stay in the United States.

Meechai is wrong on several counts. Firstly, there is nothing wrong with complaining. On the contrary, complaints very often result in better products and better services, thus complainants provide a public service for which they should be commended, and it should not be referred to as "whining".

Second, farangs in Thailand must come from about 40 different countries, all with their own national language, yet none of these farangs would expect television commentary in their own national language because, like Thai, these are national languages. On the other hand, English is an international language spoken by billions across the globe, which is why English television commentary is expected, and why it is unrealistic for Meechai to expect Thai-language television commentary in the US - or any country besides Thailand.

Finally, Meechai seems to object that farangs "would like it to be like home" in Thailand. Again, this is a rather strange observation to make. It would seem that he prefers that farangs live under some sort of hardship in Thailand. I would urge Meechai to reflect on his stay in the US, where he was a free man in every respect and was no doubt encouraged to feel at home there, and by Western standards rightly so. [ed. Thais complaining about some aspect of their living conditions while in the US would not be told to 'go home' etc at first flush, which is the rude and unjustifiably smug response foreigners are likely to receive in Thailand]

from ya-ba to football gambling and knife-wielding somchais, so smuch of called Thai 'culture' is about poor impulse control

Thai gambling on football has reached new heights during the World Cup season. Keep in mind that Thailand itself has never qualifed for World Cup competition.

from The Nation:

Football punters nabbed

Police have arrested 532 football gamblers in Bangkok and the metropolitan area in the last two weeks.

Of that number, 92 were unofficial bookmakers. Money being gambled totalled Bt196 million but only Bt500,000 of cash was seized, police said. [ed. this reflects huge unpayable debts once World Cup is over]


The arrests follow a special mission aimed at stopping gambling, especially among youths, during the World Cup. Police have checked about 3,000 premises around the capital.

From June 10-16, Assumption University conducted a public survey, from which it concluded that the number of people in Bangkok involved in football gambling was expected to rise from 850,000 to one million during the World Cup.

The poll also estimated that the amount being gambled would rise from Bt2 billion to Bt3 billion.

[ed. this amounts to between 54 and 81 million dollars US-- a huge sum by Thai standards, equivalent to nearly a week's wages for every working age Thai in Bangkok]

Saturday, June 24, 2006

no justice for three tourists murdered in Kanchanburi

Locking up criminals is the best tourism inducement

There seems no point in the Tourism Authority of Thailand being given more taxpayer money to waste in wining and dining foreign travel agents in order to persuade visitors to come here. An Australian girl tourist just died after being shot in a restaurant in Kanchanaburi ("Australian shooting victim dies", News, June 23), and there are suspicions that the murderer of two British tourists in the same town in September 2004 may have been secretly freed (" 'Killer cop' loses appeal; absence raises questions", News, June 22).

With such adverse publicity, the tourism industry is likely to decline. It's time for a clampdown on criminals who target foreigners in Thailand, not for dubious promotions.

where the money doesn't go

For the second time this week, the Northeast has seen a fatal collision between a truck and a pickup ferrying students to school.

June 21- A 10-wheeled truck slammed into a pickup packed with students [on Tuesday], killing six children and injuring at least 19 other people.

June 22- A 13-year-old boy was killed and 21 other children injured in a crash in Nakhon Ratchasima's Pak Chong district.

Instead of spending 4 *billion* baht to buy a British football team with the vague hope of "promoting Thai football," perhaps the elected government could use a small portion of that money on basic public policy issues like procuring a few school buses for the kids.

Boy succumbs to his injuries

A 12-year-old boy, the victim of a horrible car accident in which one person died and 20 others were injured, died yesterday after fighting for his life for two days.

Theerapong Traisoongnoen had been operated on twice but died at Maharat Nakhon Ratchasima Hospital yesterday at 5.30am.

His father, Jare, was inconsolable. "Please let father and son be together again in our next lives," he said, weeping.

The hospital was forced to provide a coffin for Theerapong, because Jare had no money to pay for one.

As he earns just Bt150 a month, Jare hopes his relatives and neighbours will help with his eldest son's funeral.

Jare said he had been worried about the pickup service that ferried his son to school each day and had been pondering alternatives at the time of the accident.

"Had I made the decision sooner, my son might have survived," said Jare.

Survivors said the pickup's driver, Duangrat Paeseng, had been talking on her mobile phone when the accident happened.

Witnesses said Duangrat had not noticed an oncoming truck blaring its horn at the pickup just moments before the accident.

"We have not yet questioned the survivors ... They are frightened and grieving," said Lieutenant Charnchai Urataka of Nong Sarai Police Station.

Four other students remain in critical condition.

Responding to questions of why the accident occurred in the first place, Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang said: " . . . I've already asked the Basic Education Commission to review regulations [concerning how students get to school]."

The Nation

Nakhon Ratchasima

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bangkok -- City of Angels or City of Noisy Assholes?

Finally a local Thai movement for noise abatement within Bangkok. This is great, because as long as this was regarded as a foreigners-only issue, there was little hope of progress.

Over the past 10 years the noise in Bangkok has gone from terrible to worse. Several times a day one is forced into situations where the screech from some megaphone, motorbike, or machinery actually makes your ears hurt. Nevermind the constant din that you must grit your teeth and endure anytime you leave your abode.

Most of this noise is the result of assholish, greedy, self-centered behaviour on the part of about 30% of Thais. Noise levels in Bangkok could easily be cut in half if existing noise ordinances were enforced.

from letters to the Nation

Three (silent) cheers for the People Who Love Quiet Club

Re: "Commuters want peace and quiet", News, June 21

Hooray for Panchalie Sathirasas and her People Who Love Quiet Club! And thank you to Pravit Rojanaphruk and The Nation for giving front-page prominence to her campaign to stop the ever-expanding noise pollution that has gripped every nook and cranny of Bangkok - and the country as well!

Skytrain operator Bangkok Mass Transit System Plc is a horrendous culprit. Not only is it impossible for commuters to get up to the platform without being bombarded by the loud and intrusive speakers used by video kiosks and other hawkers cluttering the ticket platform, but once upstairs and waiting for the train we must suffer from the greed of the management, who have rented out TV screens for advertisers to force their products on commuters. And for the past several months we have had to accept this inside the trains as well!

Don't bother to complain to customer service: several colleagues and I have registered at least 50 complaints over the past months, to no avail. Somebody is getting rich at the expense of our right to peace and quiet.

But while we're at it, let's not stop with the BTS. Those who manage every department store, hyperstore, restaurant, supermarket, shop and stall in this city, and even Thai Airways, seem to think that it's just fine to impose TV or loudspeaker advertising, music, irritating announcements, propaganda and all manner of noise and we poor consumers merely have to take it. Just see what happens when you ask someone to turn down the noise.

The din of traffic, crowds, mechanical equipment, etc is loud enough. One of our basic rights as citizens should be the freedom to enjoy silence in public places and venues.

It's a crime to throw trash on the streets, to smoke in public buildings, to release excessive vehicle exhaust into the air, to pollute the waterways. Please help to make it a crime to litter our ears, and help those misguided folk who run establishments to understand that the common denominator should be silence.

And please tell me how I can become a member of the People Who Love Quiet Club!

Another Quiet Lover

new Suvarnabhumi airport community latest in act-first, think-later Thai megaprojects

from the Nation:

Proposal for metropolis around new airport will take us back to square one

Re: "New metropolis is a dubious proposal", Editorial, June 22.

Your concise analysis is right on the nail. I for one have been wondering over the years why government initiatives, more often than not, do not or need not go through vigorous environmental impact assessment (EIA), social impact assessment (SIA), health impact assessment (HIA), traffic impact assessment (TIA) and so on. The EIA, above all, is required by law for all projects of any significant magnitude, such as a sizeable hotel, a hospital, a gas pipeline, gas plant, a road through natural reserves, power lines, etc. However, this metropolis seems likely to be exempted from any formal scrutiny and public input before it is regarded as feasible and acceptable to be implemented.

Hype about building a city complex in rural or suburban areas close to Bangkok Metropolis has been created numerous times without actual implementation, be it the Chachoengsao government administration metropolis, the Ban Na Nakhon Nayok administrative capital and the like. All were proposed without any proper prior study, like pie in the sky that will be shot down sooner rather than later to make way for yet another bright idea. Possibly the only benefit from these was to speculators and insiders to the process.

Innovative as it is, this latest move to establish a city on some 500 square kilometres of land surrounding the new international airport needs a big shot of common sense and engineering sense even before the notion can be publicised. The Don Muang Airport, as it is generally known, is being abandoned primarily because it is thought to be unable to cope with the demands of ever-growing air traffic. It has been stated that the area is now surrounded by so much development that expansion is virtually impossible, hence the need for another, unconfined area and the eventual selection of a new site at Nong Ngu Hao on some 32 square kilometres of lowland.

The move from a "don" (high ground) to a "nong" (swamp) is justified by the above constraints. However, even before it goes into operation this September, the idea for surrounding the new airport with settlements blatantly explodes in our faces. This will force our poor descendants back to square one: a problem like the one we face with Don Muang airport. Then there are the problems with all civil engineering on soft ground (remember reports of differential subsidence and cracks in the new airport's tarmac not so long ago?), traffic volume affecting the airport's accessibility, and proper sewage in a lowland that itself serves as an important drainage area for Bangkok.

As for the noise problem and ecological disturbances along its air corridors, nothing seems to have been thoroughly thought through - if at all - by those proposing the new metropolis. In other countries airports have been built offshore simply because the noise of landing and take-off at odd hours was not acceptable to local residents, ruling out the 24-hour operations required by the growing aviation industry. One example is the Kansai International Airport in Japan.

I have always taught my students that engineers are basically creators - and sometimes disaster-makers if things go really wrong. It seems to me now that we are the lesser evil compared to politicians. They are so blind to constructive criticism that they are willing to commit - even in a caretaker capacity - to something unsustainable by our children without prior study so as to avoid or mitigate probable problems before any real calamity takes place.

Go ahead with your bright idea, my elected politicians, as you think you are legitimately empowered by the majority of the people in this country to do it. But to serve them well you should at least have your hype independently and academically scrutinised together with some sort of public participation before laying out your plans. Let's hope this is not another pie in the sky scheme concocted to serve certain friends of yours, or yourselves.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Thaksin Shinawatra to stand trial on criminal charges Sept 18

You need a Thai business partner like you need a hole in the head. Confiscation off assets using hired police mercenaries and as well as criminal charges designed to drive you out of the country are well-used tools of the trade here.

Now, a brilliant example of mafioso style thuggery on the part of the current Prime Minister will finally get a thorough airing in criminal court.

Notice that this case has gone unresolved for 17 years. Congrats to Monson for his tenacity in seeing this through.

Thaksin to stand trial for perjury on Sept 18

Court says no need for criminal trial to wait until appeals in civil suit end

The Southern Bang-kok Criminal Court yesterday scheduled a September 18 trial date for a lawsuit filed by an American businessman against caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra over their cable television business venture that dates back to the late 1980s.

Thaksin is accused of perjury, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment.

The court granted a request by the plaintiff, William L Monson, that the criminal trial begins without waiting for a court ruling in a similar civil case.

Monson filed criminal charges on May 2 after winning a civil court case last year against Thaksin.

Thaksin appealed to the Supreme Court after losing in the Court of Appeal.

The court yesterday rejected the defence's request for the criminal trial to begin after the highest court made its ruling on the civil case.

The plaintiff charged Thaksin and four others with perjury for their testimonies given during the trial in a separate case filed by Thaksin in 1995 accusing Monson of embezzlement. Monson was later acquitted.

The American businessman counter-sued on grounds that Thaksin had falsely accused him of a criminal act - a charge that carries a maximum penalty of

seven years' imprisonment.

In early May, Monson emerged at Parliament and called a press conference along with Senator Kraisak Chonhavan, the caretaker chairman of the Upper House committee on foreign affairs.

The Criminal Court yesterday agreed with the plaintiff that the trial should begin soon. It scheduled September 18 for the first hearing into the case.

The legal wrangling goes back to 1989, when Monson claims Thaksin - who was then starting to build his telecommunications empire - violated an agreement to jointly operate a cable television enterprise, seized transmission equipment and levied criminal charges against Monson, his company and his staff.

Both parties filed several lawsuits against each other in Thailand and the United States.

Monson's successful Clearview Cable TV company, based in Seattle, Washington, moved into Thailand in the early 1980s and forged a joint venture, Video Link, with Thaksin's Shinawatra Computer and International Broadcasting Corp in 1985.

Thaksin was initially able to facilitate the required official approvals of the deal, but then the government halted it.

Thaksin and Monson negotiated another agreement, hoping to restart operations.

Monson says Thaksin abruptly violated the agreement and planned to operate the cable system alone.

Police, Monson says, then broke into his offices to remove transmission equipment, while his manager was taken to jail, warrants were issued for Monson and criminal charges levied against him, his company and staff. A court later dismissed the charges.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Hua Hin Jazz Fest -- hotel staff steal guest valuables, refuse to cooperate in contacting police

Seems obvious to me that this was an inside job, and probably a series of inside jobs across Hua Hin during the recent 'jazz fest'. What really makes my blood boil is the typical asshole attitude of the Thai hotel staff, all too common, actively obstructing the guest's attempt to file the necessary police report concerning the theft in his room. There was absolutely no valid reason or excuse for that. I certainly wish the name of the hotel were given.

Unfortunately, this kind of outrageous behaviour is all too common and likely to become a part of your holiday if you visit Thailand. I don't agree with the poster that this scenario would have played out differently had he stayed at pricer digs such as the Sofitel, for example.

from today's letters to the Nation:

Mysterious hotel thefts spoil Hua Hin's image

Last weekend, I made my way down to Hua Hin to enjoy the annual jazz festival. I stayed at a hotel just opposite the Sofitel Hua Hin, which was ideal because of its central location and vicinity to the beach.

On Saturday night, my room was broken into and my camera bag, containing a camera body and four lenses, and my PDA phone and charger were stolen. I woke up on Sunday morning to find them gone and my room door closed, but unlocked and unchained. There were no signs of a break-in.

I reported immediately to the reception staff, who were unwilling to make a police report on my behalf. They said they did not get involved in such cases because they are not sure whether their guests actually lost the items from their rooms. They also did not have the phone number of the police station! The management was not helpful at all and did not want to take any responsibility. I was appalled by how they tried to wash their hands of any responsibility and distance themselves from me.

When I went to make a report at the police station, I was surprised to find that all around Hua Hin there were many people who had had their rooms broken into and lost phones, laptops, PDAs and cameras. The police were very helpful, collecting all the relevant information and then coming to the hotel to take pictures, inspect the room and speak to the hotel staff. I have to compliment the staff at Hua Hin Police Station for being very helpful and doing the best that they could.

I hope the Hua Hin authorities apprehend the people behind these robberies. They are not good for the town's reputation as a quiet, cosy and pristine seaside getaway. Also, please be careful where you stay the next time you are in Hua Hin. I would definitely recommend staying in a reputable place with proper security.

Disgruntled Jazz Fan


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Thai Supreme Court president: Law doesn't matter, ad hoc rulings OK

Doesn't this remind you of Thaksin's famous "Democracy is not the goal" statement that he was universally panned for?

from today's Nation:

Justice more important than letter of law: judges

The presidents of three top courts agreed yesterday that judges and lawyers must ensure that justice is served, rather than the law being strictly followed to the word.

"The law is not justice itself. It's just the means to maintain justice. To ensure justice, it depends on people who use the law. They must be neutral and retain the goal of the law," Supreme Court President Chanchai Likhitjittha said.

"To interpret the law strictly and ignore justice is against common sense. And it's not the right thing to do," he said.

He was speaking at a panel discussion on the "Role of Lawyers under Royal Auspices", which was held at Thammasat University's Faculty of Law in the afternoon.

Such a stance was disputed by former House of Representatives speaker Bhokin Bhalakula, who was a panel speaker at yesterday's event. Bhokin said laws should be strictly followed.

"If you say the law is not good or is not fair and you can't follow the law, there will be a lot of problems. If enforcers of the law are not good, what should we do?" he asked.

Many members of the audience appeared to disagree with Bhokin, a deputy leader of the ruling Thai Rak Thai Party. While those in the room where the panel discussion was held were mostly calm, many people in an adjacent room, to which the event was broadcast on closed-circuit television, jeered and booed from time to time while Bhokin was speaking.

Some people in the smaller room even shouted "Thaksin, get out", the message used by anti-Thaksin protesters.


I'd have to disagree completely with the judges here. If the law isn't something to be followed, judges are left with nothing but their own prejudice and ignorance to guide them. The judicial system also loses all predictability, an important asset.

An ad hoc judiciary is the last thing Thailand needs at this point in its (so far fruitless) 200 year struggle to evolve into a modern state.

Monday, June 05, 2006

realTSUNAMI and the greedy aftermath

a beautiful letter from today's Nation re: 'outrage' over the recent filming of a BBC drama about the 2004 tsunami in Thailand:

Re: "Thais hired to play corpses in BBC tsunami TV show", News, June 4.

I was one of the victims of the tsunami. I lost a shop, two cars, three motorbikes, a kitchen, hundreds of trees and two Christmas guests. If this film is to go ahead, I would request a few more starring roles for Thais.

We need one for the interior minister who threatened to fine, jail and deport the foreign volunteers who were rebuilding the Sea Gypsies' homes. We need one for the village headman who pocketed government money for new homes, to build houses for his three children on public land. We need one for the schoolteacher who put her children on a list of orphans to get education allowances from a German charity.

We need several dozen for the unaffected villagers who drove up in their remarkably unscathed SUVs to collect government rehabilitation cash. We need several more for the land-"owners" who suddenly remembered they had tin-mining concessions up and down the coast and evicted the villagers who had been living there for generations.


Beautiful and so much more REAL than the typically myopic, arrogant, and self-aggrandizing diatribes of a few 'professional' Thai pundits who have covered the filming.