Economy

Bundestag Band-Aid: The Latest Act In Europe's Debt Crisis Bluff-A-Thon

Op-Ed: Three cheers! The relevant EU states approved the new euro bailout package. There’s just one problem: everybody knows the money is not enough, which is why they are already planning their next steps. Why are politicians ignoring the truth and playi

French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel
French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel
Hans-Jürgen Jakobs<

MUNICH - The Greek bailout package is a case of coming to the rescue after the rescue. Now that all the relevant EU states have approved the rescue fund, vehement debate has started about how to leverage a few more billion euros with the new framework.

Starting this week, the Eurozone's finance ministers are going to be working on money creation concepts -- or how to finance debt with more debt, and buy enough time until the moment finally comes when emergency measures have to be undertaken to help those euro countries that have been living way beyond their means.

A first step is the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), as the rescue umbrella is known in the technocratic language of the finance eggheads. Again, measured against the size of Greece's money woes, it is a tiny umbrella indeed.

In any case, last week, Germany's lower house of parliament -- the Bundestag -- approved increasing effective financial help to 440 billion euros since the initially proposed 250 billion would not be enough. And while most of the experts dealing with the Greek mess know that too will not be enough, ways are being sought to leverage that money – with obligations, of course.

Pumping capitalism, kicking cans

This is a new variation of the ‘pump capitalism" that in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis led leading market economies to the abyss. One current model entertains the use of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) – the very mechanisms that a few years ago were responsible for exporting the U.S. real estate market disaster to other countries.

Are financial products of this type really the solution? The EFSF fund would, at least in the imaginations of apologists of the dangerous products, guarantee some yet-to-be-created entities that would buy and sell bonds, with varying degrees of risk and interest, of troubled countries like Greece.

Another idea has also recently come under discussion: granting the EFSF a banking license. That way, for example, it could buy Greek bonds, deposit them at the European Central Bank (ECB) and get more money to acquire more such bonds.

This is the dangerous "leverage" that could create 3.5 billion euros from the 440 billion, and which German Central Bank president Jens Weidmann is condemning.

It is to be feared that whatever creations the EFSF comes up with, risks to stability in the Euro zone will rise. Europe‘s debt fighters are manifestly trying to survive this year and 2012, before rolling out the big gun in 2013: the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Only that, the governments believe, will make it possible for them to deal with what is already being talked about now: Greece's bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, Greece's creditors may be facing a haircut of up to 50%. First, however, we need to wait a few weeks and see what the representatives of the ECB, the EU Commission and the IMF – the so-called "troika" – come up with after their inspection tour in Athens. Drama feeds on drama.

The problem is being kicked down the proverbial road like the proverbial can. The time to pay will come later. In the business world, what is happening here would be considered delaying bankruptcy.

Read the original article in German

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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