eyes on the U.S.

Facing The Fiscal Cliff, Obama Is Best Hope For Global Economy

President Barack Obama with his Chief of Staff Jack Lew
President Barack Obama with his Chief of Staff Jack Lew

-Op Ed-

SANTIAGO - The most urgent problem for the second term of President Barack Obama or the first term of President Mitt Romney will be a problem that neither of them created. We are talking about the cryptically dubbed ‘fiscal cliff,’ which, if it is not solved, will push the United States into another recession in 2013.

It is a budgetary problem. Last year, the White House proposed increasing the debt ceiling to finance spending, and Congress rejected the proposal. The Republican majority opposed increasing the debt ceiling and also opposed increasing taxes. The only option they would accept was to reduce government spending, while the President and Democrats in Congress tried to push through stimulus programs that increased spending.

Faced with the impasse, Congress named a bipartisan super-committee to find a solution. But if the so-called super-committee does not come up with one, in January 2013 automatic tax increases and cuts in public spending will kick in.

The fiscal cliff would include both the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the end of cuts to employers' taxes, put in place by Obama. It would also mean the end of unemployment insurance and drastic cuts in public spending for defense, healthcare and other government sectors, for a total of $100 billion in cuts per year. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that would prompt a 1.3 percent contraction in the US economy next year.

With most of Europe in recession, Japan stagnated, China slowing down and the US still shaky, a new US recession could have wide-reaching and unpredictable consequences for the global economy. There is no question that the strong numbers in Latin American economies will cool. In this scenario, there would be a real possibility of a global depression, just as we nearly experienced four years ago.

If Obama is reelected, he will probably decide to let the Bush tax cuts expire, but he will also have to make drastic spending cuts if he wants any possibility of support from a congress that will continue to be in Republican hands.

If Romney wins, he will probably have more liberty, since he will have a Republican congress. He will probably make the Bush tax cuts permanent, at the same time that he pursues a drastic program of cuts on everything except defense. And he will try to kill Obamacare.

In either case, one has to note the discouraging level of discourse in Washington. The fiscal cliff is the best example of how Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on running the country. They are operating in exactly the style of Latin American countries.

This legislative polarization has been reflected in the presidential campaign, and in the opinions of the supporters of both candidates. The dialogue has drifted towards insults, and in some cases, lies.

The candidates themselves have not behaved much better - one accusing the other of being a socialist, the other retorting that his opponent is a capitalist bloodsucker.

But the economy and business are only one component of the global village. Obama is much more popular than Romney around the world and he is a much more viable negotiator, politically and economically, in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Obama offers stability and a United States that is more democratic and encourages dialogue. Romney symbolizes the imperial eagle. After considering the issues at stake, America Economia has decided to support Barack Obama.

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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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