Economy

Screw You, David Cameron - A French Response To The 'Lapdog Of The City'

Editorial: “When France sets a 75% top income tax rate, we will roll out the red carpet, and we will welcome more French businesses,” recently announced British Prime Minister David Cameron. Et voila...a French reply.

Shut up already! (World Economic Forum)
Shut up already! (World Economic Forum)
Laurent Joffrin*

PARIS - The English people, admirable in so many respects, sometimes beget insufferably arrogant and aristocratic characters. Case in point: David Cameron, Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, so smug and self-assured, who gives the economic liberalism he claims to represent a bad name.

Taunting France's new Socialist party government on its planned tax reform, Cameron announced that he would gladly roll out the red carpet for investors discouraged by the fiscal moves the government is about to make. Here stands a friendly government announcing, sarcastically or not, that it would be glad to undermine reforms that the French people have undeniably approved throughout four rounds of voting.

During the French Revolution, Great Britain was hostile to the new French Republic, welcoming and arming emigrants dedicated to toppling it. At the time, we were at war and London was playing its usual game, which was to weaken its neighbor across the Channel. Have we come back to a state of war, but an economic one this time?

My money, right or wrong

The French government very diplomatically attributed the Prime Minister's comments to British humor. Yet this is no joke: it reveals the cynical economic strategy of British conservatives. By transforming his country into a tax haven, Cameron is trying to attract all of those who have no civility whatsoever and who would gladly expatriate themselves if it meant saving a few million.

Thus the old English motto is amended with a neo-Tory twist: no longer "My country, right or wrong" but "My money, right or wrong," where the driving spirit of cash replaces that of the homeland. The already questionable doctrine of economic liberalism becomes the apology of financial selfishness, targeting the governments that have the strength to uphold collective values.

And is David Cameron really in a good position to lecture us? After two austerity budgets and a tax decrease for the wealthiest, the British economy is dipping back into recession. Under Cameron, the country's growth is emaciated. Unemployment is back to record levels, the debt is still enormous and the trade balance is still negative. Great Britain remains one of Europe's most non-egalitarian countries; and despite cruel sacrifices imposed on the population, so far there hasn't been any light at the end of the tunnel.

Cameron's policies are inspired by the dogmas applied in the City, the temple of speculation that has ruined all attempts to reform financial markets. Cameron, who is linked to financial and banking circles, as shown by his contemptuous one-liners, thinks that the British will be saved by their billionaires. It's the same old song…so let's agree to just ignore the yelping of the City's lapdog?

*Joffrin is the editor-in-chief of Le Nouvel Observateur

Read the original article in French, entitled "F--k Cameron"

Photo - World Economic Forum

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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

"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.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

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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