eyes on the U.S.

U.S. Election 2016: Trump, Le Pen, Millennial-Bashing Down Under

Selfie with Bernie
Selfie with Bernie

PARIS â€" Generational and gender debates rumbling inside the U.S. Democratic primary are setting off sparks as far away as Mexico and Australia. In an open letter to young women backing Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Julie Szego scolds such millenials for suffering from wide-eyed naïveté. “From the ‘safe spaces’ on campus, it can be hard to grasp the reality of structural discrimination,” Szego writes for the Australian daily. “Once women enter the workforce, the shock tends to hit hard. The boys clubs. The society shaped around the assumption that men work full-time and wives stay home. The realization that having children fuels men’s careers but stalls, or cripples, theirs. And suddenly everything from the gender pay gap to the gross under-representation of women in boardrooms, institutions and legislatures springs into focus.”

More broadly, American millenials, the generation born between 1981 and 2000, have been increasingly maligned for their oversensitivity, a reliance on constant affirmation and the myriad ways in which their helicopter parents have failed to prepare them for life in the real world. Now, in the context of the 2016 presidential election, foreign media have joined in reproaching these fledgling citizens, who represent 30% of eligible voters in next year’s election, a bloc that for the first time will rival the influence of the Baby Boomer generation.

Mexico City’s El Universal, for example, characterizes them as unsophisticated indignants without the foggiest clue about the nature of political compromise. “Bernie Sanders’ proposals â€" many of them sensible and even desirable â€" have no chance of becoming a reality, especially in Washington’s current political climate,” the newspaper’s Leon Krauze writes. Cautioning these idealists who are in early political bloom, he urges young voters to accept that Sanders doesn’t represent the political holy grail. “Sanders’ ideas are far to the left of Hillary Clinton and even President Barack Obama, who himself has encountered major difficulties trying to operate in a context ruled by enormous legislative sectarianism. So, even if a Sanders presidency were to happen, this would lead to further, and in some ways more dangerous, polarization.”

Between now and November’s general election, Worldcrunch is delivering a regular sampling of global coverage from all languages and corners of the world.

Ahead of next week’s Super Tuesday, when 12 states and the U.S. territory of American Samoa will hold their presidential party primaries, here is the latest worldwide coverage of the race for the White House:

Both French daily Le Monde and Venezuelan daily El Nacional note the stark similarities between Republican Donald Trump, who has won three of the four presidential primaries held so far, and France’s far-right National Front party. “His exuberant declarations can seem a bit scary in France,” Le Monde quotes National Front’s Secretary-General Nicolas Bay as saying. “But Trump is less of a caricature than he is made to be. Looking at the U.S. campaign, you have the feeling that the discourse is much freer. There’s a thought police in France that doesn’t exist in the United States.”

Speaking of caricatures, French cartoonist Nicolas Vadot imagines what the world’s political landscape could look like next year, featuring Trump and National Front leader Marine Le Pen taking the respective places of Obama and French President Francois Hollande whose term ends in early 2017.

“You think there’s something wrong with the world? â€" It could be much worse ...”

Trump and Le Pen attract the same kinds of supporters â€" “uneducated, appreciative of the unfiltered language that calls a spade a spade, and vagina or penis or any other rudeness that comes to mind,” El Nacional’s Carlos Alberto Montaner writes. He compares Sanders to former Swedish Prime Minster Olof Palme, but “born in Brooklyn.”

Russian media darling

While Trump has become a laughingstock all over the world, he holds a special place in the hearts of Russians, Alexey Ovchinnikov writes for Russian radio broadcaster Ekho Moskvy. “Trump has already become the darling of the Russian media,” he writes. “His praise of Putin and Russia is energetically repeated throughout Russia.” Ovchinnikov misguidedly concludes that Trump’s success “quite likely already means that efforts to make Russia a global threat are not commonly accepted by the majority of Americans, and therefore any president, regardless of his or her party affiliation, will listen to the mood of this majority.”

Media chumps

The South China Morning Post’s Kevin Rafferty articulates a starkly different view, namely that Donald Trump has become a “monster.” He lays the blame for the real estate tycoon’s outsized profile squarely on the media. Characterizing the candidate as “a toxic byproduct of the capture and purchase of the American polity by Wall Street and its corporate allies,” Rafferty writes, “he tramples the media, who are afraid to challenge or contradict him even when he is plainly wrong.”

“Hurricane Trump” â€" Le Point, Feb. 25, 2016

What's “news” in Iran

The arch-conservative Kayhan newspaper, considered Iran’s most right-wing publication, has seized on Hillary Clinton’s support for Israel in a preposterous front-page reportage claiming that she would issue “the death sentence for 200,000 Palestinians” in Gaza should she win the presidency. It attributes these “comments” to a letter it claims she wrote to donor Haim Saban. Kayhan makes little effort to hide its hardline views, or apparently to check the facts.

Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper wrote about the religious factor in American politics. Americans are "the most religious people in the Western world," the Tehran daily writes, where two "religious and non-religious" poles are effectively emerging in the campaign. Whether someone like Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz wins will determine religion's role in U.S. politics and society in coming years.

On Trump, From Scandinavia to South of the Border

Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet likens Trump’s bloviating about his wealth to the candidate’s signature mane â€" that is to say, puffed up. Andreas Cervenka writes that he’s skeptical about the candidate’s business acumen, citing Fortune magazine’s online Trump Calculator. Whatever figure you enter for your personal net worth, the end sum is the same: $10 billion â€" the amount Trump claims to be worth. The dispute over his actual assets, which Forbes reports is less than half what he claims, is relevant as Trump builds his entire candidacy on the image of himself as a polished businessman.

“Say what you will about Donald Trump, but you can’t debate that he has created an economic upswing in certain areas: the humor and satire industry is experiencing an unprecedented boom,” he writes.

Meanwhile, Trump’s sweeping remarks about Mexican immigrants being rapists and drug dealers may cause a voter backlash as high-profile Latinos in the U.S. fire back at him.

“Trump has spent his entire presidential campaign generating unfounded anti-immigrant fears and offending our communities,” reads a letter signed by Latino celebrities, including musician Carlos Santana. “Latinos must understand that Donald Trump represents the true face of the Republican Party. Unfortunately, it speaks in favor of the anti-immigrant agenda, anti-Latino GOP.”

Counting Hillary's cash (in krones)

Norwegian daily Aftenposten reports that Clinton is the favorite candidate of “American Norwegians.” The Federal Election Commission (FEC) shows that a major portion of contributions from Americans named Andersen, Hansen, Johansen, Larsen and Olsen â€" the five most common surnames in Norway â€" go to Clinton.

Of the $335,000 donated by the U.S. Olsens & Co., one-third was given to Clinton â€" a far larger percentage of donations than from the rest of the U.S. population. Sanders, on the other hand, has received only 15%.

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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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